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Written Statements

Volume 475: debated on Monday 12 May 2008

Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 12 May 2008

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

Farepak

Following my written statement on Farepak of 10 December, I would like to report to the House that the investigation into Farepak and other companies in the European Home Retail group has been completed.

The Investigation

The investigation has taken longer than expected to complete because it involved collecting and often reconstructing the financial and other records of a group of companies, including Farepak, which had ceased to trade and were in administration. The report is over 700 pages long and could lead to court proceedings, so taking short cuts in the investigation was not an option.

Legal advice is being obtained on the report to decide what further action is merited. This is a process which must be carried out confidentially to avoid prejudicing any action that may result and to protect the reputations and interests of those whose conduct is being scrutinised, but in respect of whom no decisions have yet been made. As I said in my earlier statement, if proceedings are taken against any party involved, this will become public knowledge if or when the case reaches open court. We will do everything in our power to process this quickly.

The report cannot in any case be published because there is no provision for reports carried out under the Companies Act such as these (under Section 447) to be published. In fact unauthorised disclosure is a criminal offence.

The Government have great sympathy with those people who have lost money they saved as a result of the collapse of Farepak. We are doing all we can to prevent other families suffering similar problems in the future. BERR has worked with the remaining hamper companies to put in place effective protection for customers’ prepayments. The Government have given the OFT funding for a new awareness campaign so that consumers are better aware of their options for Christmas savings. My Department is now considering the report, alongside other advice received, to assess whether further action, including possible new regulation, is necessary in the light of the action which has been taken by the surviving Christmas savings schemes.

The report is also being disclosed to the Accountancy and Actuarial Discipline Board (AADB) to assist in the investigation that it announced in June 2007 into the role of accountants within Farepak and other companies.

Communities and Local Government

Antisemitism (Government Response)

I am pleased to announce that I am today laying before Parliament and publishing the Government’s one year on response to the all-party inquiry into antisemitism.

Just over a year ago the Government responded to the all-party parliamentary inquiry into antisemitism report and undertook to report back to Parliament on progress in implementing its recommendations.

We believe the best way to tackle antisemitism is through effective implementation of strong legislation against racial and religious discrimination and racially and religiously motivated crime. This must be underpinned by policies and strategies to increase racial equality and build community cohesion, particularly through education.

We have made significant progress against the 35 recommendations made by the all-party parliamentary inquiry’s constructive and comprehensive report. We have ensured that by April 2009 all police forces will collect data on all hate crime, including antisemitism; agreed that schools and authorities can use their devolved capital funding for investment in security at schools where this is a priority; committed to funding research on the impact of antisemitic discourse; and launched the race for justice declaration—a cross-Government strategy which aims to combat all forms of hate crime.

Despite this progress, there is no room for complacency, and we will continue to take practical, effective action to stamp out antisemitism whenever and wherever it occurs. We are committed to increasing the number of hate crimes brought to prosecution, tackling antisemitism on university campuses, and challenging hate crime and extremism on the internet. We have agreed to continue our support of the cross-departmental and Jewish stakeholder working group and will report back to parliament on further progress in 2010.

This publication is available in the Libraries of both Houses.

East of England Regional Spatial Strategy

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities is today publishing the East of England plan (the revision to the East of England regional spatial strategy) together with the accompanying supporting statement, which includes a summary of the consultation responses and a sustainability statement. This is the first of a series of comprehensive reviews of regional spatial strategy to be completed under the provisions of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. The final East of England plan reflects consideration of responses to the consultations on the Secretary of State’s proposed changes and further proposed changes which were made in the light of the recommendations of the independent panel who conducted an examination in public into the draft plan.

The East of England plan is crucial to putting in place the Government’s sustainable growth strategy within the East of England. It builds on the foundations of the draft East of England plan, which was prepared by the East of England regional assembly and the findings of the independent panel who conducted an examination in public.

The East of England plan replaces the regional planning guidance for East Anglia and relevant parts of the regional planning guidance for the South East within the regional spatial strategy for the East of England. Its main purpose is to provide a framework for local planning authorities to prepare their development plan documents, which must be in general conformity with it.

The strategy aims to guide development in the East of England to 2021 and to set in place a direction of travel for the longer term. It requires the provision of 508,000 dwellings within the region between 2001 and 2021.

The plan adopts the independent panel’s conclusion that a case for higher growth was made but that it must and can be reconciled with sustainability and environmental constraints. The plan supports a spatial strategy with development focused on the main urban areas, such as Cambridge, Peterborough and Stevenage, including the growth points at Norwich, Colchester, Ipswich and Thetford. It identifies Hemel Hempstead, Welwyn/Hatfield and Chelmsford as additional growth locations close to London.

Other aspects of the plan include the regional transport strategy, the waste strategy, policies for achieving efficiency savings in water and energy consumption, and policies for improving water resource and waste water infrastructure. The Plan reflects the increased urgency to reduce carbon emissions requiring local authorities to promote renewable and low carbon energy development and the regional assembly to develop regional targets for the carbon performance of new development.

In regard to the green belt, the plan provides that the review at Harlow extend to the north of the town and the review at Welwyn Hatfield may extend into St Albans. It adds additional guidance on the basis for assessing the area to be released and requires compensatory green belt extensions to the north of Harlow and west of Stevenage, which will increase the extent of green belt in the region. In regard to transport the plan identifies priority areas where further measures are needed to tackle congestion and support growth.

The plan was subject to assessment under the habitats regulations. The sustainability statement concludes that the plan is in accordance with the principles of sustainable development and that the additional growth and changes to distribution do not give rise to adverse environmental impacts.

Reflecting the levels of development confirmed through the plan, we are today confirming that five districts are be included in the growth areas with growth area funding confirmed. Chelmsford and St Edmundsbury are brought within the London Stansted Cambridge Peterborough growth area and Dacorum, St Albans, and Welwyn Hatfield are included in the growth area programme with further discussions with partners about which growth area they should be part of. We are also confirming King’s Lynn’s bid for growth point status.

The plan represents a step change in addressing housing needs but falls short of what will be required based on likely growth in households. The regional assembly is about to commence a further review of the RSS covering the period to 2031 for completion by 2011, which will be informed by Government guidance on the range of housing provision required. We are also asking the assembly, working with partners, to carry out a single issue review focussed on regeneration of Thurrock Lakeside, including the regional shopping centre.

The RSS review is a key milestone in putting in place sustainable higher growth and setting the strategic planning context for decision makers in the East of England. The crucial task now is to ensure it is implemented quickly and effectively. We look forward to working with the local authorities, local delivery vehicles and other key partners on its delivery.

Copies of the East of England plan, together with the sustainability report are available in the Libraries of both Houses and have been provided for all of the region’s MPs, MEPs and local authorities.

Defence

UN Forces (Cyprus)

A new call-out order has been made under Section 56 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 to enable members of the reserve forces to continue to be called out into permanent service and deployed to Cyprus as part of the UK’s contribution to the United Nations forces in Cyprus (UNFICYP). Currently some 35 reservists are deployed as part of 7 Transport Regiment RLC which will be followed with a deployment of over 250 reservists in October. The call-out order has effect until 30 April 2009.

Health

Care and Support Reform

In October 2007, the comprehensive spending review contained a commitment that the Government would undertake work to look at reform options for the care and support system and consult on a way forward. It also stated that the Government would set out a process involving extensive public engagement, ultimately leading to a Green Paper identifying key issues and options for reform.

Today we are launching a six month engagement process with the public and all those involved in care and support for adults to set out clearly the case for reform, and to consult on a number of questions. This is set out in the document “The Case for Change—Why England Needs a New Care and Support System”, which is being published today to mark the beginning of this engagement process. The responses to these questions will inform the development of a number of reform options, to be set out in the Green paper.

This process, although led by the Department of Health, involves work across a number of other Government Departments, reflecting the fact that care and support encompasses many different types of services and assistance. Ensuring effective and sustainable care and support in a society where people are living longer is one of the major public policy challenges of our time. This engagement process is an opportunity for the public to help shape a response to this challenge.

A copy of the document has been placed in the Library, and copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office.