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Written Statements

Volume 474: debated on Thursday 3 April 2008

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 3 April 2008

Treasury

ECOFIN

The Economic and Financial Affairs Council was held in Brussels on 4 March 2008. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury attended for the UK. Items on the agenda were as follows:

Implementation of the Stability and Growth Pact. Stability and Convergence Programmes: Second series of Member States

Ministers adopted Council opinions on the stability programmes of Austria, Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Malta, Cyprus, Slovenia, and on the convergence programmes of the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Denmark, and Lithuania. The UK supports a prudent interpretation of the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) which takes into account the economic cycle, sustainability and the important role of public investment.

Preparation of the European Council (13-14 March)

i) Broad Economic Policy Guidelines 2008-10/11 and Country-Specific Integrated Recommendations

Following the orientation debate on these documents at the January ECOFIN and further drafting amendments in the Economic Policy Committee and Economic and Financial Committee, Ministers adopted reports which were sent to the spring 2008 European Council. These reports included reformulated draft texts which were endorsed by Heads as part of the launch of the next three-year cycle of the Lisbon strategy. The UK believes that implementation of the Lisbon strategy, including these recommendations, should now be a priority for member states.

ii) Financial stability

Ministers prepared the spring European Council’s discussion on issues related to financial stability on the basis of a report drafted by the Economic and Financial Committee which examined the causes and possible policy responses to recent financial market turbulence, preparing a contribution for Heads of State and Government on the matter. Ministers agreed that key issues for discussion were: improving transparency, valuation of financial products, strengthening prudential requirements and making markets function better. The UK believes that as a key global marketplace, EU has an important role to play in the international response to market turbulence.

iii) Sovereign wealth funds

Ministers prepared the spring European Council’s discussion on Sovereign Wealth Funds, following the publication of a communication by the European Commission on the framework for investments made by Sovereign Wealth Funds. The UK welcomes the Commission’s recognition of the benefits of open trade and investment.

General Budget of the European UnionCouncil priorities for the 2009 budget

Ministers adopted conclusions agreeing the Council’s budget guidelines for the 2009 EC budget. These guidelines are a set of broad principles which are designed to inform the subsequent and more detailed discussions on the level of appropriations required for the different areas of the budget. The subsequent negotiations throughout 2008 will determine the amounts to be spent under each budget heading. The UK supports the conclusions, which place appropriate emphasis on maintaining budget discipline and sound financial management.

Taxation

Fight against tax fraud

At the March ECOFIN, Ministers had an initial discussion of a Commission Communication on far-reaching changes to the VAT system to help counter fraud. The issue will be re-examined at a future meeting. The UK is strongly supportive of work that will help in the fight against Missing Trader Intra-Community (MTIC) and other VAT fraud, while remaining committed to minimising the burdens on legitimate businesses.

Taxation of savings

The European Commission updated ECOFIN on its discussions with Singapore, Hong Kong and Macao with a view to bringing them into the framework of the Savings Directive. The Savings Directive enshrines the principle of exchange of information on taxation of savings and extends beyond the EU through agreements with third countries and territories. The UK strongly supports the Commission’s continued dialogue with these financial centres.

Ministers also discussed the problem of cross-border tax evasion in the context of recent developments concerning Liechtenstein. The Commission offered to bring forward its report on the operation of the Savings Directive and Ministers welcomed this. The EU has an important role to play in combating tax evasion and the Savings Directive is a key instrument in promoting transparency.

Children, Schools and Families

Children's Plan

In December, the Government published their Children’s Plan and set out their ambition to make this the best place in the world to bring up children and young people. I am today making a number of announcements that will support the delivery of our vision:

to unlock the talent and promote the health and happiness of all children, and not just some;

to back parents and help them meet their responsibilities to bring up their children; and

to build a culture of prevention and early intervention so that no child can fall behind.

Play

The Children’s Plan set out the biggest ever investment in play by Government of £225 million over three years. I have now been able to add an additional £10 million to this amount, making a total investment of £235 million. This will fund 30 new adventure playgrounds and up to 3,500 inclusive play sites, creating attractive play areas for children and particularly 8-13 year olds in disadvantaged areas.

I am today announcing the first 20 pathfinder local authorities who will this year begin spending this investment as play pathfinders. Each pathfinder will receive around £2 million capital funding plus approximately £500k revenue funding over three years. A further 10 pathfinder authorities will be selected in the autumn. In additional 43 other local authorities (LAs) will receive funding from this year to develop play areas in their communities. These LAs will receive capital funding of around £l million over three years. A list of the pathfinders and those LAs benefiting from capital funding this year is attached to this statement. This funding will help them transform play opportunities in their areas in partnership with children, families, communities and the third sector. Over the next three years every local authority will receive substantial capital funding to develop public play areas.

We want local authorities to give a high priority to supporting and promoting outdoor play, with play and public play space being seen as an essential characteristic of every healthy community. That is why, from 2009, we will introduce a new national indicator to monitor progress on what children think about the parks and play spaces in their local area.

The package outlined in the Children’s Plan will be detailed in full in a national Play Strategy “Fair Play”1 which I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport are launching for public consultation today. I believe that this strategy and the investment underpinning it represents an excellent opportunity to improve local play opportunities, and support children’s play across the whole country.

myplacedelivering world class places for young people to go

Young people in their teenage years also need interesting and exciting places to go where they can meet friends and take part in positive and enriching activities. This is particularly important in those areas affected by problems with anti-social behaviour and youth crime.

I am today announcing the launch of myplace, a £190 million programme delivered by the Big Lottery Fund, to invest in world class places for young people to go, delivering on our Children’s Plan commitment to improve youth facilities. I want this funding to start making a difference to our neighbourhoods as soon as possible, so while myplace will open to applicants on 6 May 2008,1 am setting out today the timescales and criteria for the competitive bidding process.

By making grants of between £l million and £5 million, I expect myplace to transform the way that facilities for young people are planned and delivered across England. In particular, I want the programme to support projects that:

reflect real cross sector partnership, maximising leadership from within the community while ensuring the strategic involvement of local authorities and encouraging support and backing from the private sector myplace will accept bids led by public, third or private sector partners;

demonstrate the active participation of local young people, particularly the most disadvantaged, in the development, design and future running of the project;

are sustainable in the long term and for third sector organisations, who often find this most challenging, we will provide £50,000 to fund development work in this area; and

are linked to wider corporate asset management strategies and Children and Young People’s Plans for improving places to go in every local authority area ranging from ambitious flagship projects, as supported by the myplace, to smaller scale projects, particularly in the most deprived estates and communities.

The first round of funding will commit up to £160 million, of which up to £50 million will be available through a fast track route which will be open to applicants until the end of July. This will enable early investment in projects that are already well developed, starting to deliver impact for young people and their communities this year. The standard route, which will be open to applicants until the end of September, will also encourage applications from those with further to go. The Big Lottery Fund will ensure that funded projects receive the support they need to succeed.

I urge local partners to start preparations now to take full advantage of this opportunity. Further details about myplace can be found in a leaflet that will placed in the House library and available on the Big Lottery Fund website2.

Childrens Trusts

Children’s Trusts should bring together all the key partners at local level to achieve our ambition. Making a reality of the vision for our children set out in the Children’s Plan requires 21st century children’s services that put the needs of children and families first and work across traditional professional and institutional boundaries. This is essential to unlocking the potential of every child and is especially important for the most vulnerable children with complex needs.

I am today launching a consultation on draft guidance for Children’s Trusts3. It recognises the significant advances that have been made in many areas in the planning and delivery of services through Children’s Trusts. But it also makes clear that all Children’s Trusts need now to raise their game to ensure that strong and purposeful partnership activity leads directly to measurable improvements in the lives of children and young people, in the support given to parents and families and, in doing so, making the vision in the Children’s Plan a practical reality. I would also welcome the views of Children’s Trust partners and other interested parties on whether further changes, including to the legislative framework, are needed to enable Children’s Trusts to fulfil the challenging remit the Children’s Plan now gives to them.

Childrens workforce

The people who work directly with children are at the heart of delivering our Children’s Plan ambitions, whether they work in schools, the NHS, youth services, or children’s social services. I am publishing today “Building Brighter Futures: next steps for the Children’s Workforce.”4 The document gives more detail about the implementation of our commitments in the Children’s Plan to:

invest £73 million in a package of proposals to improve training, recruitment and professional development of social workers working with children and families;

invest £305 million in early years to provide greater graduate leadership of practice in private, voluntary and independent settings towards our ambition of a graduate early years professional in every full day care setting by 2015; and

invest £7.5 million in the play workforce including to give 4,000 play workers access to level 3 qualifications from September 2008.

To help ensure that the whole children’s workforce is of the highest quality, I am also today announcing the creation of an expert group drawn from across the whole children’s sector—including unions, other representative organisations and people who provide frontline services—to advise me on the creation of a long term strategy to bring the workforce together around the needs of children, young people and their families. The Children’s Workforce document I am publishing today asks a number of key questions of the expert group which will be co-chaired by Maggie Atkinson, the incoming President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services.

Together, this package of measures—major improvements in play and youth facilities, and further steps to improve children’s services—represents a significant step towards achieving our Children’s Plan objectives and helping every child and young person to fulfil their potential.

I will be placing copies of all the documents referred to in this statement in the Libraries of both Houses.

1Document can be found at: http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/consultation

2Document can be found at: www.biglotteryfund.org.uk

3Document can be found at: http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/consultations/conDetails.cfm?consultationld=1544

4 Document can be found at: http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/publications/childrensplan

Communities and Local Government

Local Government

The Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 provides for a reformed conduct regime for local authority members in which responsibility for standards of conduct and dealing with allegations of misconduct by members is largely devolved to each council’s independently chaired standards committee. The Standards Board for England will have the role of a light touch regulator, providing guidance to councils and their standards committees, monitoring the handling of misconduct allegations, and itself dealing with the most serious misconduct cases.

We intend this reformed conduct regime should be in force this May, following the local government elections. From this point all allegations of misconduct by council members will in the first instance be considered by the council’s standards committee, which may thereafter pass the most serious cases to the Standards Board.

Accordingly, we will shortly be making the necessary order to commence the relevant provisions of the 2007 Act, and laying before Parliament regulations making provision about the procedures standards committees must follow when considering allegations of misconduct by Members.

Earlier this year we consulted local authorities and stakeholders about the provisions for such regulations. I am today placing in the Libraries of both Houses a summary of the 571 responses that we received together with the Government’s response to the issues which have been raised.

Having regard to the consultation responses, we intend the procedure regulations will in particular make provision to ensure that standards committee members avoid any conflicts of interest when considering allegations; that given the personal nature of allegations that might be unfounded, there will be no public access to standards committee meetings or papers when allegations are being initially assessed; and to increase the maximum sanction available to standards committee from three to six months suspension from office.

Eco-towns

In July last year, the Government published a prospectus outlining its intention to build up to ten “eco-towns”.

Eco-towns are a response to the twin challenges of an acute housing shortage and climate change. They will test out new ways of designing and building towns to achieve zero carbon standards and promote more sustainable living.

The eco-towns prospectus outlined the criteria for a successful eco-town:

(i) That they should be new settlements of between 5,000 and 20,000 homes, separate and distinct from existing towns, but well linked to them;

(ii) The development as a whole should reach zero carbon standards, and each town should be an exemplar in at least one area of environmental sustainability;

(iii) It should include a good range of facilities—a secondary school, a medium scale retail centre, good quality business space and leisure facilities;

(iv) Between 35 per cent. of the housing should be affordable, with a particular emphasis on larger family homes;

(v) There should be a management body to help develop the town, support people and businesses moving to the new community, and to co-ordinate service delivery.

In response to our invitation, we received 57 proposals for eco-towns. There has been a rigorous cross-Government assessment of these bids, particularly focusing on the existing transport infrastructure and local environment. We have also looked at the likely benefits to existing communities, the contribution the eco-town would make to local housing needs, and the likelihood of the proposal being successfully delivered.

We are today publishing a short-list of 15 locations which will go through to the next stage of consultation. These are:

Pennbury, Leicestershire: 12,000 to 15,000 homes on a development incorporating brownfield, greenfield and surplus public sector land four miles south east of Leicester.

Manby and Strubby, Lincolnshire: 5,000 homes, largely on brownfield land including a former RAF base. The nearest town is Mablethorpe.

Curborough, Staffordshire: 5,000 homes on the brownfield site of the former Fradley airfield, 10 miles from Burton.

Middle Quinton, Warwickshire: 6,000 homes on a former Royal Engineers depot, six miles south west of Stratford upon Avon.

Bordon-Whitehill, Hampshire: 5,000 to 8,000 homes on a site owned by the Ministry of Defence. The nearest town is Guildford.

Weston Otmoor, Oxfordshire: 10,000 to 15,000 homes on brownfield land. Three miles south west of Bicester.

Ford, West Sussex: 5,000 homes on a site which includes the former Ford airfield. The nearest town is Littlehampton.

Imerys China Clay Community, Cornwall: Around 5,000 homes to be built on former china clay workings, industrial land and disused mining pits. Close to St. Austell.

Rossington, South Yorkshire: Up to 15,000 homes regenerating the former colliery village of Rossington, three miles south of Doncaster

Coltishall, Norfolk: 5,000 homes on a former RAF airfield, eight miles north of Norwich.

Hanley Grange, Cambridgeshire: 8,000 homes, incorporating a former science park.

Marston Vale and New Marston, Bedfordshire: Up to 15,400 homes, on both brown and greenfield land south of Bedford.

Elsenham, Essex: At least 5,000 homes north east of the existing Elsenham village.

Rushcliffe, Nottinghamshire: An eco-town proposal was submitted for Kingston-on-Soar, to the south of Nottingham. In response to representations from Rushcliffe Borough Council (RBC), this site is not to be pursued. However, the Government are proposing to carry out a further review in partnership with RBC to consider whether there is a suitable alternative location with the potential to be viable within the Rushcliffe local authority area.

Leeds City Region, Yorkshire: A number of eco-town proposals were submitted for locations within the area of Leeds City Region partnership of 11 authorities and principally between Leeds and Selby. The Leeds City Region Partnership has indicated support in principle for an eco-town within the sub-region. The Partnership has proposed a further study to compare the best alternative locations across the Leeds City Region partnership area. The Government have agreed to support this approach, on the basis that it will allow a further announcement to be made shortly of one or more sites for consultation.

These potential locations have been published as part of a consultation document “Eco-towns—Living A Greener Future”, inviting views on both the broader objectives and benefits of eco-towns, and on those locations which we regard as the most promising.

We will also be looking at the proposed schemes from promoters and we expect each proposal to be further refined and improved over the coming months. We will be looking for clear evidence that each scheme:

achieves the highest possible environmental standards, not only mitigating the impact of development, but positively enhancing the site, as well as reducing the need for residents to rely on cars;

is clearly deliverable, with funding identified and proper management arrangements set out;

is affordable, with a clearly agreed basis for contributions from private investors and public sector agencies.

A panel of experts will advise and challenge those leading the proposals to improve the environmental credentials of each project. Government will also be providing support to the relevant local authorities, comparable to the support on offer to local authorities designated as growth points or growth areas. We will continue to work in partnership with local government and the LGA as we move forward.

This consultation is the first of four key stages in the planning process for eco-towns.

Stage One: Three month consultation on preliminary views on eco-town benefits and these shortlisted locations;

Stage Two: Further consultation this summer on a sustainability appraisal, which provides a more detailed assessment of these locations, and a draft planning policy statement;

Stage Three: A decision on the list of locations with the potential to be an eco-town as part of the final planning policy statement, later this year;

Stage Four: Like any other proposed development, individual schemes will need to submit planning applications which will be decided on the merits of the proposal.

Our objective is for five eco-towns to be completed by 2016, and up to ten by 2020. We expect work to begin on some sites by 2010.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Draft Marine Bill

As the next major step in delivering the proposals set out in the Government’s Marine Bill White Paper—A Sea Change, a draft Marine Bill will be laid before Parliament today. Copies of the draft Bill will be available in the Vote Office.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

EU Foreign Ministers

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary represented the UK at the informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers (“Gymnich”) in Brdo, Slovenia on 28 and 29 March 2008.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

Middle East Peace Process

The Presidency and High-Representative Solana briefed Ministers on recent developments in the region. Ministers reiterated their commitment to the Annapolis process, and agreed that the EU, in its capacity as a member of the Quartet, should continue to focus on practical efforts to support the political process. The EU should focus particularly on continuing its work on Palestinian economic development and security sector reform, including capacity-building measures within the judiciary and police.

Ministers shared concern about Syria’s policies in the Middle East and concluded that the EU needed to speak with one voice to Syria. While Ministers recognised Syria’s importance in helping to resolve the conflict in the Middle East, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary emphasised the need to send a clear message that Syria’s continued interference in Lebanon was unacceptable. He also called for the EU to do all it could to continue to support the Lebanese Government.

Russia

Ministers discussed how to take forward EU-Russia cooperation under the Medvedev administration. Ministers agreed that the relationship was strategically significant, not just in the context of economic sectors such as energy, but with regard to issues in the common European neighbourhood and promoting security and stability more broadly. The majority view was that swift progress on a mandate to open negotiations on a successor Partnership and Co-operation Agreement with Russia would therefore be useful in providing a framework for the relationship. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary underlined the importance of maintaining EU unity when dealing with Russia.

Western Balkans

In a joint session with colleagues from the Western Balkans countries, Ministers focused on the region’s prospects for joining the EU. The presidency’s subsequent statement, which the Government broadly support, emphasised that it was important for the Western Balkans countries to make rapid progress on political and economic reforms, reconciliation and protection of ethnic minorities; welcomed the Commission’s Communication on the Western Balkans; and called upon the EU to reaffirm its commitment to the success of enlargement within the region, so long as those countries aspiring to EU membership meet the established criteria.

Tibet

Ministers stressed their strong concern over events in Tibet. They stated that the EU condemned all violence and called for it to cease, while asking that those arrested be treated in conformity with international standards; wished to uphold the transparency of information and free access by the press to Tibet. Ministers also noted the Dalai Lama’s recent public commitment to non-violence and to the autonomy not independence of Tibet; and called for substantive and constructive dialogue that addressed core issues such as preservation of the Tibetan language, culture and traditions. The Government supported this position.

Intercultural Dialogue

Ministers discussed the release of “Fitna”, a controversial short film on Islam, by the Dutch MP Geert Wilders. They reaffirmed that the right of freedom of expression was a basic value of the EU but stressed the importance of respect for others’ religious beliefs.

Health

Pharmacy Services

We are today laying before Parliament the Government’s White Paper, “Pharmacy in England—Building on Strengths, Delivering the Future” (Cm 7341). This fulfils an undertaking I gave to the House on 24 July 2007. It also meets the commitment the Government gave in paragraph 4.47 of “Our Health, Our Care, Our Say” to develop pharmaceutical contractual arrangements in line with the wider ambitions of that White Paper.

This White Paper sets out our future proposals for developing pharmaceutical services. It demonstrates the Government’s continued commitment to pharmacy, its place in the NHS and its role as a leading clinical profession in delivering better access to high quality services to patients and consumers.

It sets out how pharmacists will work to complement general practitioners in promoting health, preventing sickness and providing care that is more personal and responsive to individual needs. Pharmacists already play a vital role for local communities in dispensing medicines, and providing services such as supporting people who want to give up smoking. This extended role will see more pharmacists being able to prescribe for and deal with minor ailments on the national health service, as well as supporting those with long-term conditions and preventing illnesses through additional screening and advice.

This will enable pharmacies, many of which already open out of hours to provide increased access to the right medicines and the right care, in the right way—more personal and more responsive to individual needs.

Under the new proposals, pharmacies will:

become “healthy living” centres promoting health and well-being and helping people to take better care of themselves;

be able to prescribe certain common medicines and be the first port of call for minor ailments—saving every GP up to the equivalent of one hour per day or up to 57 million GP consultations a year;

provide support for people with long-term conditions—such as high blood pressure or asthma—50 per cent. of whom may not take their medicines as intended—especially those starting out on a new course of treatment;

be able to screen for vascular disease and certain sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia;

work much closer with hospitals to provide safe, seamless care; and

play a bigger role in vaccination programmes.

To support this important programme of work, the Department will appoint two new pharmacist clinical directors later this year who will champion change in hospitals and in the community.

The White Paper also provides the Government’s response to a review of national health services pharmaceutical contractual arrangements led by Anne Galbraith, former Chair of the Prescription Pricing Authority. Her report, “Review of NHS pharmaceutical contractual arrangements”, which was completed last year, has been placed in the Library and copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office. I am most grateful to Mrs Galbraith for the speed and efficiency in which she completed her report and her insights, which have helped shape our thinking as set out in this White Paper.

We have also taken account of the work of the All Party Pharmacy Group, which published its report “The Future of Pharmacy” in June last year.

The Government have concluded that a number of structural changes are needed—in terms of reforms which will enable appropriate action to be taken in the small minority of cases where performance is not meeting accepted standards and to shift funding arrangements so that rewards are based on the quality, not the quantity, of the services provided.

We set out proposals to reform 100-hour a week pharmacies. We want the NHS to have adequate levers which ensure such pharmacies better meet local needs.

The White Paper also considers the position of dispensing doctors and appliance contractors—with proposals to allow dispensing doctors to sell over-the-counter medicines and for appliance contractors to meet professional and high quality standards.

We will proceed quickly with the next stages to support implementation of the actions set out here. We are holding a series of events around the country beginning on 1 May 2008, to hear views from the public, from the NHS and from the professions. We will then consult fully later this summer on some of the key proposals for structural reform needed. That consultation will take full account of the final “NHS Next Stage Review” report to be published in due course.

Home Department

UK Border Agency

In a statement to Parliament on the 14 November 2007, Official Report, column 667, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced a wide range of measures to counter terrorism, increase the resilience of communities to resist extremism and to strengthen our borders. The statement announced the decision to establish a UK Border Agency, a global organisation that will improve the UK’s security through stronger border protection while welcoming legitimate travellers and trade.

The new UK Border Agency is today established as a shadow agency of the Home Office. The agency’s purpose and objectives are set out in its first business plan which I am laying in the House today. That purpose is clear: it is to secure our border and control migration for the benefit of our country; protecting our borders and national interests; preventing border tax fraud, smuggling and immigration crime; and implementing decisions quickly and fairly.

The UK Border Agency will unite the work of the Border and Immigration Agency, Customs detection work at the border from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and UKVisas from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), to create an organisation with a budget of over £2 billion, 25,000 staff, and operating in local communities, at our borders, and across 135 countries worldwide. The agency will deploy unprecedented power in pursuit of its goals.

The new agency will deliver new powers to front line officers. I can announce that by the summer we will have cross conferred customs and immigration powers on over 1,000 front line staff. In addition, staff in England and Wales will be equipped with police-like powers as set out in the UK Borders Act. Passengers and goods will now be checked at a single primary line. Uniformed UK Border Agency officers will protect the UK searching for signs of smuggled goods or immigration abuse and will have new powers to improve their ability to detain suspected law breakers. Legislation to provide for full integration of customs staff will be presented to the House shortly. Wider powers demand tough accountability. The Independent Police Complaints Commission has therefore taken over investigation of individual cases from 25 February and we intend to appoint an independent inspector of the UKBA shortly.

Further, the new agency will unlock a new relationship with 1,600 uniformed police officers at ports and airports and the UK’s 1,400 Special Branch officers for whom funding has been increased to around £75 million. Today I am placing in the Library of the House a new framework of co-operation between the police in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The framework establishes strategic direction for intelligence sharing and delivery of frontline operations.

In a response to a recommendation in the Cabinet Office report “Security in a Global Hub—Establishing the UK’s New Border Agency Arrangements” published last November, the Home Office is working with the Association of Chief Police Officers for England, Wales and Northern Ireland to consider how policing—which is currently delivered by the local force for each port and airport—may be best organised to deliver a fuller level of integration at the border, taking into consideration the drive for greater collaboration which is at the heart of the Governments programme for improving protective services.

We are discussing with the Scottish Devolved Administration and the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland ways of strengthening working relationships between the Scottish police service and the new agency taking into account the devolved nature of policing in Scotland.

By working in partnership with HMRC and the FCO, the UK Border Agency will contribute to the collection of £22 billion in tax revenue and the facilitation of international trade worth £600 billion per annum.

The agency will be more powerful than today’s separate forces and will therefore deliver on tougher targets. It will:

Expel 5,000 FNPs from Britain, up from 4,200 last year.

Sustain last year’s increase in the seizure of class A drugs by seizing at least 2,400 kg of cocaine and 550 kg of heroin by April 2009.

Increase by 50 per cent. the number of asylum cases concluded in less than six months.

Extend the UK’s visas regime to cover a larger proportion of the world’s population.

Increase our detention capacity by 20 per cent. over the next two years to help us increase the number of immigration offenders we can remove from the country.

Lin Homer as chief executive will be supported by a board including an HMRC Commissioner, Mike Eland, a senior FCO representative, James Bevan and a senior police representative, Roger Baker, the Chief Constable of Essex.

I am also placing in the Library of the House a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Home Office and the FCO which underpins the move of UKVisas into the new global agency.

The MOU sets out the respective commitments of the Home Office and the FCO. It details the financial, resource and management framework within which the UK Border Agency’s overseas operations will function. From today UK Border Agency’s overseas staff, drawn from the FCO, the Home Office and from external organisations will work as an integrated team to achieve the Government’s objectives for immigration and border security.

Finally on 1 April my hon. Friends the Minister of State for Borders and Immigration, and the Minister for the Middle East wrote to the Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs Select Committees outlining the new procedures for dealing with correspondence on visa-related matters. On the same day my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury wrote to the Treasury Select Committee about procedures for dealing with correspondence relating to frontier detection. I am placing a copy of these letters in the Library of the House today.

Prime Minister

Council of Europe/Western European Union

My right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clywd) has been appointed as a full member of the United Kingdom Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Assembly of Western European Union in place of my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith), my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Jim Hood) has been appointed as a full member in place of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (Mr. David Marshall) and my hon. Friend Baroness Gale has been appointed a full member in place of my right hon. Friend Baroness Taylor of Bolton.

Attorney-General

Plea Negotiation (Fraud Cases)

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

“The Government have today issued a consultation paper on a possible Plea Negotiation Framework for introduction in England and Wales. The consultation period will run for three months and we are keen to hear from as many people as possible.

The consultation paper gives effect to one of the key recommendations of the Fraud Review published in July 2006, which was itself subject to a period of public consultation. The relevant recommendations in the review attracted a good deal of public support and my predecessor established a Working Group to devise an appropriate framework. That Working Group was chaired by Stephen Hockman QC, former chairman of the Bar Council, and consisted of representatives drawn from across the criminal justice system. The framework that group devised is the centrepiece of the consultation paper”.

Transport

EU Transport Council

I will attend the first Transport Council of the Slovenian Presidency which takes place in Luxembourg on 7 April.

There will be a progress report and policy debate on three proposals in road transport: a recast regulation on common rules for access to the international road haulage market; a regulation on common rules concerning the conditions to be complied with in order to pursue the occupation of road transport operator; and a recast regulation on common rules for access to the market for coach and bus services. The Government welcome the intention to clarify and simplify the existing provisions. The proposed changes in the legislation should maintain and improve road safety while minimising the burdens on industry and they should help to reduce distortion of competition through greater levelling of enforcement and compliance between the UK and other EU road haulage and coach operators. However, we have some reservations, particularly in relation to the proposed definition of cabotage, the responsibilities of transport managers and the information to be included in the interoperable national enforcement registers. I will be raising these issues at the Council.

On rail freight, the Council will be asked to adopt conclusions on the Commission Communication “'Towards a rail network giving priority to freight”. The conclusions broadly welcome the Communication and invite the Commission to devise measures to achieve the efficient operation of international rail freight services along cross-border corridors, mainly through improved co-operation between national infrastructure managers. Key UK concerns with the communication have been addressed satisfactorily in the conclusions: the Commission’s suggestion of giving “priority to international freight” over domestic rail traffic (a problem for the UK and many other member states with mixed, passenger and freight, traffic) has been substituted with a more general objective of “facilitating efficient flows of international rail freight”; the Commission’s apparent preference for new legislation to achieve its objective has been mitigated by an invitation to consider also the consistent implementation and rigorous enforcement of existing EC legislation, alongside new legislation where this may be required; and the Commission has been invited to develop relevant alternative proposals on the basis of an appropriate analysis of their impact and their relative costs and benefits and in accordance with the principles of Better Regulation. The UK can be satisfied with this successful outcome which will enable it to support these Conclusions in Council.

In November, Ministers agreed conclusions on the Galileo satellite navigation programme defining the general principles for a public sector governance and procurement strategy for the programme. This Council will be asked to reach a general approach on the text of a regulation to implement the agreement reached in November. The Government have sought to ensure the current text of the regulation provides for the implementation of sound project management principles where the risks can be effectively managed, a fair and competitive playing field for suppliers at all levels, including SMEs, and robust measures for the control of costs. I believe the current text meets the UK’s objectives. A number of issues remain under negotiation including the role and responsibilities of the European Parliament and ensuring a clear division of tasks between the Commission and the Galileo supervisory authority in the programme. It is possible that some of these will have to be resolved in discussions at Council itself. The Government are keen to ensure an efficient decision-making process, project management and governance structure.

The Council will be asked to reach a political agreement on a directive on airport charges, which aims to establish a framework of common principles as to how airports determine their charges for aircraft landing, take-off and handling of passengers. As well as setting standards for transparency and consultation, the directive requires an independent supervisory body to intervene in the case of disagreement over a decision on charges. As part of a political agreement, the UK supports the adoption of certain amendments proposed by the European Parliament where they strike a balance between the interests of airlines and airports without imposing unnecessary or disproportionate regulation.

The Council will also be asked to reach a general approach on a regulation on a code of conduct for computerised reservation systems, to replace the existing Regulation 2299/89. The UK supports the proposed general approach that aims to update and simplify the existing code and bring it into line with other European legislation, while maintaining safeguards against anti-competitive behaviour.

The Council will be asked to adopt conclusions relating to a Commission Communication entitled “An agenda for a Sustainable Future in General and Business Aviation”. The draft conclusions welcome the Commission’s overview of the sector and its coherent position on the future development of general and business aviation. We welcome recognition of the need for proportionality in any future European regulation, given the diverse nature of general and business aviation activities. We support the conclusions, which recognise that general and business aviation provides important social and economic benefits, and that there should be a common set of data on this sector, in order to contribute to safety improvements and a better understanding of the sector.

There will be progress reports and policy debates on two current legislative proposals in maritime transport. These are a directive on compliance with flag state requirements and a directive on the civil liability and financial guarantees of ship owners. The Government have consistently argued that the Commission has yet to establish either a compelling need or a robust better regulation case for these proposals. We recognise that the Slovenian Presidency has made a significant effort to reach an agreed compromise on these proposals. Despite this effort, however, the majority of the member states, including the UK, are continuing to voice their strong concerns on both proposals and agreement is unlikely in the near future. There are five other maritime safety measures (ship classification, accident investigation, port-state control, vessel-traffic monitoring and carrier liability) which risk being delayed due to the ongoing discussion on flag state and civil liability. The Government consider that it is more important to finalise these five other proposals rather than to continue to pursue agreement on flag state and civil liability at the present time.

Transport

Safety, Service Delivery and Logistics Group

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has set a range of high-level targets for the 2008-09 year on behalf of the agencies within the Safety, Service Delivery and Logistics Group; the Driving Standards Agency, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Vehicle Certification Agency, the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency and the Government Car Despatch Agency. They are included in the Agencies’ Business Plans together with their associated measures. The plans also include a range of management targets, performance indicators and key tasks which are appropriate to the agencies’ businesses. Copies of the business plans will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses shortly.

The Key Targets for the Driving Standards Agency are:

Secretary of State Targets (target measures are italicised)

To achieve customer satisfaction with the overall service received at 90% for candidates and 73% for business customers.

To deliver 6,000 Arrive Alive presentations to include 10% or more targeted at special needs groups such as young offenders, older drivers and people with disabilities.

Initiate 5 pilot projects aimed at improving driver education and training and raising the driving standards of high risk groups such as young novice drivers.

Introduce new EU compliant CPC qualification for bus and coach drivers by 10 September 2008.

In order to deliver the new EU motorcycle test:

Develop a network of off-road manoeuvring areas for motorcyclists

By 29 September 2008 ensure that 51% or more of the population of Great Britain is within 45 minutes or 20 miles of such a facility

To reduce the level of impersonations we will progress to conclusion, by 31 March 2009, 750 investigations in relation to impersonation or identity fraud, and seek prosecutions where applicable.

Achieve online bookings of 65% for all existing services by 31 March 2009.

Deliver the first year of the Comprehensive Spending Review by achieving £6 million of efficiency savings. Maximise productivity by improved attendance management to reduce sick absence to an average of no more than 10 days per employee.

Secretary of State Targets (target measures are italicised)

The Key Targets for the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency are:

Maintain or improve customer satisfaction by private motorists to 90% and commercial customers to 90%.

Maintain or improve on the standard of services to the customer.

To achieve at least 16 out of the 18 customer service measures.

Accuracy (traceability)—increase the accuracy of the vehicle and driver register by being able to trace registered keepers from the record in 95% of cases.

Launch 24/7 electronic access to vehicle and driver details for approved enquiries by Police Force or Court partners from September 2008.

Collect around £5 billion of VED and through enforcement action collect £30 million.

By restraining transaction unit costs and through other initiatives deliver financial savings of £19.5 million.

Increase customer take-up of electronic transaction channels by March 2009 to 42%.

Reduce average number of days absence for 2008-09 to 10.2.

Secretary of State Targets (target measures are italicised)

The Key Targets for the Vehicle Certification Agency are:

To provide a class-leading service in type approval and certification.

90% turnaround of system and component type approval certificates within 9 working days.

98% of appraisal reports on technical performance from independent panel members deemed to have no critical defects

Maintain or improve customer satisfaction.

Achieve an average of 85% of customer satisfaction ratings across all measures.

Delivery of services under the terms of the Recast Framework Directive

To have the systems and processes in place to deliver ECWVTA and National Small Series Type Approval under the Recast Framework Directive by March 2009.

To ensure the continued consistency and quality of VCA's type approvals.

Carry out a programme of Conformity of Production verifications in accordanc -with the provisions of Directive 70/156.

Development of a mechanism so that a risk-based approach to Conformity of Production verifications can be implemented in 2009/10

To carry out a programme of conformity of production inspections for dangerous goods packaging

To monitor compliance of safety critical vehicle systems and components in the UK marketplace to meet EU standards.

To deliver the agreed 08/09 DfT test and enforcement programme..

To carry out and enforce an annual programme of in-service emissions testing.

Complete agreed 08/09 DfT in-service emissions test programme

To achieve efficiency savings consistent with the CSR07 settlement, whilst investing in VCA infrastructure and skills.

Delivery of the first year of the CSR 07 Efficiency plan of a reduction in DEL cover over 2007-08 of£300k by:

Increase utilisation to 62% or above in line with VCA's 10/11 end state of 65%

Invest £150,000 in professional skills and capability development.

Achieving a surplus on full cost basis in excess of £50,000.

The Key Targets for the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency are:

Secretary of State Targets (target measures are italicised)

To maintain or improve overall customer satisfaction on 07-08 levels of 87%

Increase the range of electronic services available to citizens and businesses—4 new electronic services available by 31 March 09.

Book and pay for bulk annual tests online.

Receive updates on changes to legislation and standards.

Start application process for technical tests with forms available online.

Where requested, be reminded of private vehicle MOT test date by e-channels.

Improve the quality and availability of commercial vehicle tests

85% of tests at test station of choice within one working day of requested date, for tests booked at least 10 days in advance.

Improve road safety through better targeting of non-compliant operators, vehicles and drivers

Deliver a programme of increased enforcement activities at hotspots on the strategic road network, contributing to a 15% increase in the number of dangerous vehicles and drivers being taken off the road compared with 07/08.

Improve the quality and consistency of vehicle testing

4% reduction in vehicles with a wrong MOT test result compared to 07/08

10% improvement in consistency of commercial vehicle tests compared to 07/08 national average

Implement a revised headlamp aim test.

Reduce the administrative burden of commercial operation.

Deliver DfT plan for graduated fixed penalties and deposits

Implement simplified fees structure for licensing and annual roadworthiness testing in readiness for implementation in April 2009.

Deliver 1st year of the 3 year CSR07 plan.

Reduce the cost base, excluding depreciation, by £4 million.

Reduce the average number of days lost per employee through sickness absence to 9.5 days (and 7.5 days by 2010/11)

Increase the take-up of existing electronic services available to customers to 32%.

Secretary of State Targets (target measures are italicised)

The Key Targets for the Government Car and Despatch Agency are:

Maintain a Customer Satisfaction index (CSI) score of at least 87

To maintain accreditation for ISO 9001

The quality of service is measured by means of ISO 9001, the internationally recognised standard for quality Management Systems

To maintain accreditation for ISO 14001.

Measured by means of ISO 14001, the internationally recognised standard for environmental Management Systems.

By March 2009 to reduce average CO2 tailpipe emissions of our fleet by at least 5% compared with March 2008 levels

To break even on an accruals basis.

As a not-for-profit organisation GCDA aims to recover costs. In delivering this target we will seek to ensure that our administration is as effective as possible, delivering excellent value for money to our customers

To reduce sickness absence rates to 8 days per employee per annum

To commission an online payment system for customers

Local Transport Bill

The Local Transport Bill will empower local authorities to deliver bus services that better meet the needs of their local communities. Among other things, it will enable quality partnership schemes to make more of a difference, by allowing them to cover frequencies, timings and maximum fares where there are no “admissible objections” from “relevant operators”.

The Quality Partnership Scheme model was introduced by the Transport Act 2000 as a means by which a local authority agreed to invest in improved facilities at specific locations along bus routes (for example, bus stops or bus lanes) and operators who wish to use those facilities agree to provide services of a particular standard (for example, new buses, or driver training standards).

The Bill includes a power for the Secretary of State (and the Welsh Ministers) to make regulations defining the terms “admissible objections” and “relevant operators”. To assist the Public Bill Committee’s consideration of the Bill, the Government will shortly be publishing a pre-consultation draft of these regulations, along with an updated draft of the supporting guidance which was first published in December 2007. The draft regulations and guidance relate to England only.

The draft regulations and guidance will be made available on the Department for Transport website, and copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Biofuels and Tallow

During the debate on the draft Renewable Transport Fuel Obligations Order in the House of Commons Seventh Delegated Legislation Committee on 23 October 2007, I agreed to commission a review of the likely impacts of the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) on the other UK industries which use tallow as a feedstock. I said that in the light of the review’s findings, the Government would consider whether changes needed to, and could, be made to the design of the RTFO.

The Government are keen to publish the review prior to the start of the RTFO on 15 April. The review will therefore need to be published during recess, and I will arrange for copies to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The Government will take the findings of the review into account in EU negotiations on the renewable energy directive as well as in policy decisions on the future design of the RTFO. The Government will also ensure that the review’s findings are fed into the review of the wider, “displacement” impacts of biofuels which was announced by Ruth Kelly on 21 February, and which will be reporting in June.

Work and Pensions

Disability Benefits (European Court of Justice)

I notified the House on 13 December that following the European Court of Justice decision of 18 October 2007 I would publish details of the eligibility criteria for payment of the disability benefits (Disability Living Allowance (care component), Attendance Allowance and Carer’s Allowance) within the European Economic area and Switzerland (EEA). I have now arranged for information to be placed on the Directgov (www.direct.gov.uk) and the Department for Work and Pensions (www.dwp.gov.uk) websites. This sets out which categories of customers in receipt of the benefits may continue to be paid if they move to another EEA state.

The interpretation of the judgment is particularly complex as these disability benefits are different in some respects to the other benefits covered by the European Regulations. My officials are continuing their discussions with the European Commission on the eligibility of people already living in another EEA state who wish to claim from abroad. I will place further information on the websites once these discussions are complete.

A specialist section has been set up in the Pension, Disability and Carers Service to deal with queries. Customers who would like more information about the effects of the judgment should contact the address below:

Website: www.direct.gov.uk

Address: Exportability Co-ordinator,

Pension, Disability and Carers Service,

RoomB120D,

Warbreck House,

Warbreck Hill Rd, FY2 OYE.

Email: exportability.team@dwp.gsi.gov.uk

We anticipate that first payments will start to be made to eligible claimants from later this month.

Lone Parents

The Government are committed to continuing their work to eradicate child poverty and help all individuals reach their full potential by moving from unemployment and welfare dependency to paid work.

We announced in the command paper “Ready for Work: Full Employment in our Generation” our intention to require lone parents with older children who can work to look for work. This means that lone parents will no longer be entitled to income support solely on the grounds of being a lone parent. Instead, those who are able to look for paid work will make a claim for jobseeker’s allowance and be required to seek suitable employment actively.

We announced our expectation that this change would be introduced from October 2008 for lone parents with a youngest child aged 12 or over, and then from October 2009 and October 2010 when the youngest child turns 10 and 7 respectively.

I now intend that the arrangements for new and repeat lone parent customers with a youngest child of 12 or over will take affect a month later, in November 2008, to allow time to consider some additional flexibilities to jobseeker’s allowance. The Government have been working closely with a range of groups who represent the interests of lone parents and has had early advice from the Social Security Advisory Committee. Additional flexibilities to jobseeker’s allowance have been suggested to meet the specific needs of lone parents.

The Government intend to take forward a number of these suggestions in connection with proposals for regulations that I will provide to the Social Security Advisory Committee. I believe that the proposals will strike the right balance to ensure that jobseeker’s allowance remains focused on helping people look for paid work while accommodating the varied and individual circumstances that lone parents will face.

As has been discussed with lone parent stakeholder groups, we intend that existing lone parent recipients of income support with a youngest child aged 12 or over will be progressively moved from income support from early 2009.