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Written Statements

Volume 475: debated on Tuesday 13 May 2008

Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 13 May 2008

Communities and Local Government

Building Regulations Part G

I am today publishing a consultation document on options for revising part G of the building regulations addressing sanitation, hot water safety and water efficiency in buildings.

This consultation follows a wide-ranging review of part G of the building regulations and delivers on two Government commitments:

to introduce into the building regulations a whole-building water efficiency standard of 125 litres per person per day for new homes. We announced this water efficiency policy last July following an earlier consultation; and

to review how part G and the associated guidance addresses hot water safety. This follows a statement released by my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela E. Smith) last June on the safety of hot water systems and on the risk of scalding from hot water.

The consultation package, which includes an impact assessment of options, seeks views on a number of changes to the regulations and supporting guidance, and invites consultees to provide us with information on other options. The main areas we are consulting on are, in summary:

proposals to update and bring part G (hygiene) and the guidance in the associated approved document into line with current standards, legislation and industry practice;

the proposed inclusion of a new section on cold water services which would specify locations within the building where a supply of “wholesome” water is required, and which in turn makes it possible to allow the use of “non-wholesome” water in other locations, such as the use of captured rainwater for toilet flushing;

proposals that bring into effect the Government’s policy on water efficiency;

proposed measures to provide for consistent safety of hot water systems; and

a request for more information on the costs and benefits to allow further exploration into the possibility of limiting the temperature of water delivered to sanitary appliances to prevent scalding.

The Government would like to support a provision that would help reduce the risk of scalding incidents from sanitary appliances, and we are aware of the support this would have from many hon. Members and other stakeholders. However, our initial analysis of such a provision suggests that the costs of such measures are considerably out of proportion to the benefits they would deliver. Unfortunately, this means it is not currently possible for us to bring forward a definite proposal for consultation. However, as part of this consultation we are inviting more information to be provided to inform our analysis.

The consultation is accompanied by impact assessments and can be accessed via the Communities and Local Government website at: http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/planningandbuilding/partgconsultation.

The consultation closes on 5 August 2008.

Defence

Spring Performance Report

I have today placed in the Library of the House copies of the Ministry of Defence’s spring performance report. This shows that the armed forces, supported by their civilian colleagues, have consistently and reliably continued to make progress towards their military strategic objectives, including a secure environment and security sector reform in Iraq and Afghanistan. In so doing they are also making a significant contribution towards the Government’s wider conflict prevention goals, where we have made some encouraging progress. The Department is also on course to exceed the efficiency goals set in the 2004 spending review, and over the spending review period has continued to deliver against almost all of the targets for equipment acquisition, although we do not expect to have achieved the 2007-08 target for average in-year slippage in forecast in-service dates.

The continuing high operational tempo means that the armed forces cannot simultaneously be ready for the full range of potential contingent operations provided for in planning assumptions, and we do not now expect to have met the readiness target. And although overall activity levels have fallen, the operational tempo is also still preventing achievement of harmony guidelines in parts of the Army and the Royal Air Force. The challenge of implementing the changes in service personnel numbers announced in the July 2004 White Paper while sustaining the high operational tempo means that we have also not made as much progress as we originally planned towards achieving manning balance across all three services, and we therefore do not now expect the Royal Navy or Army to have achieved manning balance by April 2008.

RAF Hercules ZH876 Board of Inquiry

I am able to inform the House today of the findings of the Royal Air Force board of inquiry (BOI) into the loss of the RAF C130J Hercules ZH876 in Iraq on 12 February 2007.

The purpose of a board of inquiry is to establish the circumstances of the loss and to learn lessons from it; it does not seek to apportion blame.

The board of inquiry was convened on 13 February 2007 and considered a mass of evidence. The board established that, on 12 February 2007, Hercules C130J ZH876 was on a routine operational passenger flight to conduct a roulement of troops, landing at a tactical landing zone (TLZ) in Maysaan province, South East Iraq. As the aircraft was about to touch down, it was subjected to an improvised explosive device (IED) attack which damaged the aircraft. The captain brought the aircraft to a stop and ordered the aircraft’s evacuation. All passengers and crew evacuated successfully, only slight injuries having been sustained.

A second RAF Hercules aircraft was in the vicinity of the TLZ on another task, and offered to provide assistance. It subsequently landed to recover the crew and passengers who were due to depart on ZH876. This second aircraft sustained minor damage on landing as a result of running through some debris from ZH876. This damage was later repaired at its detachment base and the aircraft was quickly returned to service the next day.

Due to operational considerations, ZH876 was judged to be unrecoverable. Consequently, it was destroyed by coalition forces on 13 February 2007, in order to deny enemy forces any exploitation opportunities.

Following extensive investigation, the board concluded that the cause of the accident was the detonation of two arrays of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) buried along the edge of the landing strip at the TLZ. The board of inquiry commended the crew on its handling of the immediate aftermath of the explosion and the successful evacuation of the aircraft. Further, the board stated that, even if the aircraft had been fitted with explosion suppressant foam, it would not have reduced the damage sustained by the aircraft in the IED attack.

The BOI report and a military aircraft accident summary are being placed in the Library of the House and on the MOD’s public internet site. As you will appreciate, the safety of our people is a principal consideration and we have therefore removed from both documents any information that might endanger the security or capability of UK and coalition personnel, or be of use to an enemy. We have, however, tried to be as open as possible and have carefully considered the public interest arguments for and against disclosure of the information in the report. We have ensured that each redaction is justified by an appropriate exemption in the Freedom of Information Act.

I remind the House that the purpose of the Inquiry is to identify those factors which contributed to the loss and indicate lessons for the future. The board made a number of recommendations that we are studying closely. Indeed, we have acted on many of them already. The main recommendation was that TLZ search procedures must be revised prior to the resumption of TLZ usage in Op TELIC. Furthermore, once cleared, a TLZ must be constantly monitored prior to use. The National Search Centre, in conjunction with relevant units, has further developed the force protection search section of RAF Regiment procedures. These are now being used by force protection teams on operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The board of inquiry into the loss of Hercules ZH876 is now complete. I express my gratitude to the president of the board and his team for their painstaking work.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

CEFAS

I have set the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) the following performance targets for 2008-09:

Service Delivery

Customer satisfaction to exceed 82 per cent.

To provide high standard of services to the satisfaction of customers. Measured through weighted average of customer response to post-contract survey that covers seven aspects of service quality.

Delivery of R&D milestones to exceed 90 per cent.

To fulfil commitments on time, within budget and to agreed standards of quality. Covers R&D milestones which support DEFRA’s strategic objectives and intermediate outcomes. Performance is reported as a proportion of agreed outputs weighted by contract value.

Science quality indicators to exceed 75 per cent.

To enhance scientific capability and reputation, using indicators grouped around research, wider dissemination and use of our science, and scientific capability. Measures include customer surveys, numbers of peer reviewed scientific papers and investment in new science.

Value for public money

Recover the full cost of our services

To demonstrate financial sustainability through sound operational financial management and appropriate investment in CEFAS’s future, including the delivery of CEFAS’s transformation plan. Measured through achieving an audited break-even result in 2008-09.

Efficiency savings to LSP plans

To operate with simple, reliable and effective processes in the support and delivery of customer projects. Performance against peer and competitor benchmarks will be used to monitor progress to deliver financial efficiency targets. These are set out in the re-phased LSP plans and include reducing administrative headcount and costs.

Capacity and capability

Relocate Burnham on Crouch in 2008-09

To invest in transformation in line with CEFAS’s long-term strategy, with successful relocation of Burnham on Crouch laboratories to Lowestoft during 2008-09 being a major milestone.

Staff satisfaction survey to exceed 65 per cent.

To respect and help the agency’s people to develop. Measured by an annual questionnaire to staff, using a weighted scale for the eight survey categories.

Further details are given in the CEFAS business plan 2008-09, copies of which will be placed in the Libraries of the House.

Innovation, Universities and Skills

HE Student Support (Annual Uprating)

The level of support for loans, grants and fees that will be available to eligible higher education students in the 2009-10 academic year will be broadly 2.6 per cent. higher than for 2008-09, in line with forecast price increases.

For students who have entered higher education on or after 1 September 2006 and are being charged variable fees, the maximum fee payable will increase from £3,145 to £3,225 in 2009-10. The increase to the fee will be matched by a corresponding increase to the loan for fees that students can take out.

For students who are not being charged variable fees (primarily students who entered higher education before 1 September 2006), the maximum fee contribution payable will increase from £1,255 to £1,285.

The increased fee amounts will be authorised by the Student Fees (Amounts) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2008, which will be laid before Parliament in due course.

For students who are eligible for the maintenance grant, or the equivalent alternative special support grant, the maximum amount of grant available will increase from £2,835 to £2,906.

For most students, the maximum amount of the basic maintenance loan will increase from £4,625 to £4,745. For students studying in London, the maximum amount will increase from £6,475 to £6,643, while for students continuing to live at home while studying, the maximum amount will increase from £3,580 to £3,673.

I am placing a memorandum in the Library which gives full details of the increased loan, grant and fee rates for 2009-10. All these rates are being incorporated into the Education (Student Support) (No. 2) Regulations 2008, which will also be laid before Parliament in due course.

Justice

Appointment to the Boundary Commission for Wales

I should like to inform the House that I have, under Schedule 1 to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, appointed Mr David John Bader as a member of the Boundary Commission for Wales. The appointment is effective from 1 May 2008 until 30 April 2013.

Wales

Legislative Competence Order (Housing)

I am pleased to inform the House that the proposed National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Housing) Order has been laid today, as Command Paper (7379). Copies of this can be found in the Vote Office and will be placed in the Library from 12 noon. I have written to the Chairmen of the Welsh Affairs Committee and the House of Lords Constitutional Committee to request they undertake pre-legislative scrutiny.