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Written Statements

Volume 476: debated on Wednesday 21 May 2008

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 21 May 2008

Children, Schools and Families

EU Council

The Deputy UK Permanent Representative, Andy Lebrecht, will attend the Youth Council on 22 May. There is only one agenda item.

Ministers will be asked to adopt a resolution on participation by young people with fewer opportunities. This calls for increased efforts to ensure that young people from less advantaged backgrounds are able to participate in employment, education and training and avoid social exclusion. It suggests a number of measures which help improve outcomes, including early intervention and a cross-sectoral approach. The UK is content with this approach to youth policy.

There will be a related exchange of views on how member states’ policies help to ensure participation by young people with fewer opportunities and how they intend to improve their practice in future. The UK has a good story to tell and will concentrate on the Every Child Matters agenda, 14-19 reform and the positive activities being promoted through Aiming High in England and equivalent programmes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Belgium has asked for an Any Other Business item on the use of the mosquito alarm for dispersing groups of young people.

Communities and Local Government

Yorkshire and Humber Plan

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is publishing today the Yorkshire and Humber Plan, the revised Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS), replacing the RSS published in December 2004.

The Yorkshire and Humber Plan is crucial to delivering the Government’s sustainable communities and growth agenda in the region. It builds on the foundation of the draft plan published by the Yorkshire and Humber Assembly in 2006 and takes account of the two rounds of public consultation and independent Examination in Public that followed. In total 2,276 representations were received from 201 people and organisations. Over a third of these representations were expressions of support, while the remainder suggested further or alternative changes to the RSS. I have considered all of these representations, and also updates to the Sustainability Appraisal/Strategic Environmental Assessment and Habitat Regulations Assessment required under the legislation which confirm that the revised plan should help deliver sustainable development. I have decided that no further major policy changes are required, although amendments and clarifications have been made to various parts of the plan.

The most notable aspects of the final revisions to the plan are as follows:

Confirmation of the Spatial Vision and Core Approach of the plan as set out in the proposed changes, with recognition of Bradford as a “Regional City” (in addition to Leeds, Sheffield and Hull) and the addition of a reference to helping to deliver the target set in the regional economic strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Confirmation of the increased levels of housing growth set out in the proposed changes (over 22,000 per year between 2008 and 2026), with minor increases in three rural districts. This is supported by a new policy, based on Planning Policy Statement 3 Housing and other elements of the plan, to manage the step up in delivery that this requires.

Confirmation of the increased levels of potential job growth as set out in the proposed changes, with clarification of how these are intended to be delivered in different parts of the region through detailed wording to the policies about city and town centres and employment land reviews.

Confirmation of the policy set out in the proposed changes that local authorities should set targets for decentralised and renewable or low-carbon energy in new development, with the addition of an interim target of 10 per cent. to be used in certain circumstances.

Recognition of Robin Hood Airport as a regionally significant investment priority, operational and related development at the airport, and development elsewhere in South Yorkshire arising from the airport’s important role as an economic driver.

The plan represents a step change in addressing housing need in Yorkshire and the Humber but falls short of what is likely to be required in the longer term to meet the Government’s Housing Green Paper target. The Yorkshire and Humber Assembly are committed to carrying out a further partial review of the plan to consider housing growth, taking account of latest evidence, Eco Towns and New Growth Points. This will be completed by 2011 as required by the Green Paper.

Copies of the Yorkshire and Humber plan are available in the Libraries of both Houses and have been provided for all the region’s MPs and MEPs. Copies will be sent today to all local authorities, the Yorkshire and Humber Assembly and Yorkshire Forward (the Regional Development Agency). Hundreds of other stakeholders will be informed of how to obtain a copy.


Equipment Project

I am pleased to inform the House that we have taken a major step towards the procurement of new naval tankers, as part of the Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) project, to support the Royal Navy on global operations worldwide. We have set a worldwide competition for the design and build of these new fleet tankers and have now selected four companies with whom we look forward to working to develop our plans further. We urgently need new double-hulled tankers and recognise that UK capacity may not be available. The four companies that will work alongside the Department over the coming months for the new MARS fleet tankers are: Fincantieri (Italy); Hyundai (Republic of Korea); Navantia (Spain); and a consortium of BAE Systems (UK) with BMT DSL (UK) and DSME (Republic of Korea).

Following the competition, the MOD will make a final decision in 2009 to select one of the companies/consortia to design and build these new ships.

The new fleet tankers, the first element of the MARS programme, will comply with the highest international environmental standards, provide a much improved working environment for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary personnel, and allow the full range of Royal Navy operations to continue around the globe for 25 years from their launch.

Later elements of the MARS programme may provide opportunities for UK industry but no decisions have been made on how these later ships will be procured.

RAF Regiment

I should like to inform the House that I have decided to establish permanently an additional RAF Regiment Field Squadron, (15 Squadron RAF Regiment) and a RAF Force Protection Wing Headquarters (No. 7 RAF Force Protection Wing Headquarters).

15 Field Squadron RAF Regiment and No. 7 Force Protection Wing Headquarters will increase the RAF Regiment’s capability, will reduce the time that their personnel spend on operational tours and, it is anticipated, have a positive effect on recruitment and retention.

15 Squadron RAF Regiment has been formed by combining and re-roling the two remaining RAF Rapier Squadrons (15 and 26 Squadrons) which were otherwise due to disband on 31 March 2008. The new squadron was formed as a temporary measure for deployment on Op HERRICK from August 2007 to February 2008. Following this decision it will now be permanently established at RAF Honnington.

No. 7 Force Protection Wing Headquarters will be manned by personnel who have been re-allocated from across the RAF to meet current operational priorities and will be based at RAF Coningsby.

RAF Aerobatic Team

I am able to inform the House today of the outcome of the Royal Air Force study that has been undertaken to consider the future basing requirements for the RAF Aerobatic Team (RAFAT) known as the Red Arrows. The aim of the study was to consider future basing options and to make recommendations on the most suitable option in terms of operational effectiveness and value for money.

Based on the recommendations of the study, I have decided that, subject to trade unions consultation, the RAFAT will operate from RAF Waddington and continue to use the dedicated airspace above RAF Scampton to complete their acrobatic displays.

This will result in some 100 service personnel being relocated from RAF Scampton to RAF Waddington. Two civilian posts will be part of this move. Other members of civilian staff who work within the airfield support services at RAF Scampton may be affected by the reduction in the use of the station’s runway. This is the subject of further work. Accordingly, we will be formally consulting with the trade unions over the two personnel affected by this relocation. We will also inform the trade unions that other civilians may be affected.

The RAFAT’s relocation will be complete by 31 July 2011.


Death Certification (England and Wales)

The Government have today published a summary of responses to the consultation paper setting out proposals for improving the process of death certification in England and Wales. The proposals are intended to address the weaknesses in the current system for certifying death which were identified by the Shipman inquiry.

The vast majority of respondents supported the proposed introduction of a process of secondary certification of all deaths that are not referred to the coroner, and for this scrutiny to be undertaken by appropriately qualified medical examiners. The Department is now working with stakeholders to take forward these proposals.

The proposed improvements to the process of death certification complement the Government’s proposals for introducing a statutory duty for medical practitioners to report deaths to the coroner. A summary of responses to the public consultation on these proposals is being published today by the Ministry of Justice.

The summary of responses to the proposals for improving the process of death certification in England and Wales has been placed in the Library and copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office.

International Development

Debt Relief

On 18 May over 1,000 people gathered in Birmingham to mark the 10th anniversary of the formation of a human chain by over 70,000 people to demand an end to the debts of the world’s poorest countries. Since that day 10 years ago, we have made great progress in providing debt relief to the poorest nations. Debt relief has played an important role in helping these countries tackle poverty and progress towards the millennium development goals.

The enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) was launched in 1999 to provide faster, deeper and broader debt relief and to make the poverty reduction strategies of poor countries central to HIPC. At Gleneagles, in 2005, we used our G8 presidency to go further and secure the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI). Excellent progress has been made under these initiatives and together they have so far provided over US$100 billion (£51 billion) worth of debt relief allowing the poorest countries to invest vital resources in health, education and infrastructure. In 2005, the Paris club agreed its largest ever African debt relief deal with Nigeria.

Since the last statement in January 2007 there has been further progress on debt relief for poor countries. Sao Tome & Principe and the Gambia are the most recent countries to complete the HIPC process and have most of their debt cancelled, bringing the total to 23 countries. These countries have received 100 per cent. cancellation of their multilateral debts owed to the World Bank, African Development Bank (AfDB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) under the MDRI. A further 10 countries are receiving interim relief, including Afghanistan and the Central African Republic, who entered HIPC during 2007, and Liberia who entered at the start of 2008. Another eight countries remain eligible for the debt relief provided under these international initiatives. The UK continues to exceed its HIPC commitments, providing 100 per cent. bilateral debt relief and holding in trust any payments received from HIPC countries yet to enter the initiative.

There are many good examples of the use countries are making of their debt relief savings. Burundi is using the extra US$75 million HIPC relief has provided towards the abolition of primary school fees and the building of 1,100 primary school classrooms. Nicaragua is using its savings to increase investment by US$54.3 million in health and US$121 million in education between 2007 and 2008. It also used funds towards supporting the construction of social housing, water and sanitation and social programmes aimed at children and families affected by natural disasters. Sierra Leone is using US$33 million freed up by the MDRI in 2008 to fund an emergency electricity generation programme which will double electricity supplies.

We remain committed to the full financing and implementation of the HIPC and MDRI initiatives. Our annual MDRI contributions to the World Bank and AfDB for 2007 and 2008 have amounted to £71 million. Since January 2007, we have provided £30.7 million to the HIPC trust fund towards debt cancellation costs for a number of HIPC countries including Sao Tome & Principe, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo and most recently the Gambia.

Under the Commonwealth Debt Initiative (CDI) we provided a further £5 million of debt relief for Jamaica in 2007-08 bringing the total we have written off under this initiative since 1998 to £51 million.

Countries with arrears to the international financial institutions must clear them before they can enter HIPC and receive debt relief. Last year, we contributed £1.3 million to help clear arrears owed to the AfDB by the Central African Republic and £500,000 to help clear the arrears owed by Comoros to the AfDB. More recently, the UK has contributed £20 million to help with the clearance of Liberia’s arrears at the AfDB and IMF.

We continue to believe that many poor countries, not just HIPCs, require additional support with their debt payments in order to achieve the MDGs. Under the UK MDRI we provide multilateral debt relief to poor countries not covered by HIPC that can use the savings for poverty reduction. We have recently changed the UK MDRI eligibility criteria to provide a clearer focus on good public financial management. This enables more of the poorest countries to benefit from debt relief.

Under the revised criteria, five new countries qualify to receive UK MDRI, in addition to the eight that are currently receiving support.

The UK has also been at the forefront of international initiatives to promote sustainable lending and borrowing. We played a key role in discussions of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Export Credit Group in January 2008 to agree a set of principles and guidelines that promote sustainable lending to all low income countries. The UK continues work to improve the capacity of poor countries to manage their debt and to support the development of policy frameworks that promote sustainable lending and borrowing.

The benefits of debt relief can be reduced by the actions of so-called “vulture funds”. We have made concerted efforts to tackle this problem and secured international agreement on the need for action. To reduce the risk of debts falling into the hands of vulture funds we have been working with the World Bank to help poor countries buy back their commercial debts at a deep discount through the Debt Reduction Facility (DRF). Last year we provided £1.8 million to assist with Nicaragua’s US$1.3 billion commercial debt buy-back operation. This operation represented the elimination of over two thirds of all reported court judgements against completion point HIPCs. Last May, the UK called for assistance from the DRF to be available earlier for HIPC countries, a position supported in February by G7 Finance Ministers, and agreed last month by the World Bank board. We have recently announced our commitment of up to £10 million for future DRF country operations to help tackle the threat of vulture funds. In addition, with strong UK support, the board of the African Development Bank has agreed to promote the establishment of an independent legal support facility to advise countries on how best to tackle vulture fund activity.


Statutory Duty to Report Deaths to Coroner Modernisation and Consolidation of Cremation Regulations

Today I am publishing two papers which summarise the responses to the consultation papers “Statutory Duty for Doctors and other Public Service Personnel to Report Deaths to the Coroner” and “Cremation Regulations: Consolidation and Modernisation”.

A statutory duty to report deaths to coroners, to be introduced through the Coroners and Death Certification Bill, will be placed on registered medical practitioners only, although it will not prevent anyone else from being able to report a death, including family members if they have concerns. The Bill will give the Lord Chancellor the power, in consultation with the Secretary of State for Health, to make regulations which set out the circumstances in which deaths must be referred to the coroner.

The response paper indicates what we are doing ahead of legislation to take this policy forward. We will work across Government and with those who work in the coroners service to produce national guidance for England and Wales to clarify which deaths should be reported to the coroner. This national guidance will form the basis of the list of reportable deaths, and will be framed in secondary legislation and associated guidance under the Coroners and Death Certification Bill when it is implemented.

The Cremation Regulations 1930 have been amended on a number of occasions and are now seen as old-fashioned and confusing. It is intended they will be modernised and consolidated. There will also be two major policy changes. First, bereaved families will have the right to inspect the medical forms before the cremation takes place. This is an important Shipman-related reform. The families of Shipman’s victims believed that if they had had seen the cremation forms Shipman had completed about their relatives, they would have recognised that the information was wrong and Shipman would have been exposed much sooner. The Government believe that this is likely to have been the case, Secondly, the regulation on the handling of contagious diseases will be replaced by a simpler procedure permitting the rapid throughput of cases. In the light of the responses we have received, we intend to introduce the new regulations together with accompanying guidance for stakeholders before the end of the year.

The new statutory duty and the changes to the cremation regulations complement the Government’s proposals for improving the process of death certification. A summary of responses to the public consultation on these important reforms is being published today by the Department of Health.

Copies of both summary of responses have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

Northern Ireland

Youth Justice Agency (Corporate Plan 2008-11 and Business Plan 2008-09)

I have placed copies of the Youth Justice Agency’s Corporate Plan for 2008-11 and Business Plan for 2008-09 in the Libraries of both Houses.

The business plan contains 14 key performance targets I have set for the agency for 2008-09. These are:

1. Some 95 per cent. of all children subject to a Juvenile Justice Centre Order will have are integration plan.

2. Achieve an 85 per cent. compliance rate within the statutory timeframe for all children who are subject to a community disposal supervised by the agency.

3. Achieve an increase in public confidence in how the agency deals with young people accused of crime from 41 per cent. to at least 45 per cent. as measured by the Northern Ireland omnibus survey.

4. Some 85 per cent. of youth conference reports to be returned to court within statutory timescales.

5. At least 80 per cent. of referrals to result in a youth conference and of those, at least 70 per cent. of young offenders to be satisfied with the outcome.

6. Maintain a victim attendance rate of at least 60 per cent. for youth conferences and of those, at least 75 per cent. of victims to be satisfied with the outcome.

7. Following the introduction of a common risk assessment system, all young people referred to the agency under a court order to have an assessment of risk and strengths completed within four weeks of the commencement of the order.

8. All new admissions to custody to have a risk assessment conducted within 24 hours.

9. No escapes from the Juvenile Justice Centre.

10. At least 90 per cent. of young people remanded by the courts to have a bail assessment commenced within five working days.

11. Reduce the levels of physical restraint by 5 per cent. compared with 2007.

12. Maintain expenditure within approved budgetary limits.

13. Publish and lay the agency’s audited 2007-08 annual report and accounts before Parliament prior to its summer recess.

14. At least 75 per cent. of staff to confirm that their learning and development needs are being met.


DNA Profiles Disk Inquiry

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

“I am today publishing a report from Peter Lewis, the Chief Executive of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), of his inquiry into the CPS handling of a disk containing 2,159 Dutch DNA serious crime scene profiles that had been sent to the CPS by the Dutch authorities in January 2007.

Mr. Lewis’s inquiry comprised three key strands, which have established:

The series of events beginning in May 2005 leading up to the provision to the CPS of the Dutch DNA disk in January 2007. This identified the nature of the arrangements made between the UK and Dutch authorities for the exchange of DNA profiles for comparison with their respective national databases—referred to as “Operation Thread”—and how these arrangements were carried out.

The series of events and the actions of CPS personnel between receipt of the Dutch DNA disk in January 2007 and passing it on to the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) in January 2008. This included consideration as to whether action of any kind should be taken against any CPS employee.

The progress made since January 2008: to pursue the analysis of the Dutch DNA profiles; to exchange information arising from this with the Dutch authorities; and to identify, trace and prosecute those suspected of criminal offences both in the UK and in the Netherlands.

The Solicitor-General and I are very grateful to Peter Lewis for his thorough inquiry and for this comprehensive report. On the basis of this, we are in no doubt that there is potentially immense value in these exchanges of data and in the investment the UK Government have made in establishing a DNA database. The exchange of information may lead to the prosecution of criminals who would not otherwise be brought to justice.

However, the report reveals significant shortcomings in the way in which this process was planned and implemented. The report sets out that at no time had it been agreed that the Dutch DNA disk should be sent to the CPS, and that it should rather have been sent to the UK central authority. But there was a highly regrettable delay to the process while the disk was in the possession of the CPS.

The report identifies actions taken by the CPS to address internal performance issues. It also makes a number of recommendations for managing the mutual exchange of DNA data more effectively in the future.

These are:

Any bilateral discussions for the exchange of DNA data between the UK and foreign jurisdictions should include representatives from the CPS and the equivalent prosecuting authority from that foreign jurisdiction.

Such discussions should result in the production of a written agreement or protocol, and Ministers should be informed before the mutual exchange arrangements are implemented.

Any such agreement or protocol should outline the key steps to be taken, attribute responsibility for each step, preferably to a named individual, identify a senior point of contact in each organisation and set an agreed timescale for completion of each stage of the process, and establish a mechanism for the recorded agreement of any revisions to that timescale where necessary.

Every such agreement or protocol should comply with the pre-existing legal and procedural requirements of the jurisdictions/states involved, including any data protection regimes.

Plans for addressing any real or perceived public protection issues that may arise from the results of the DNA comparisons should be in place prior to implementation of any mutual exchange arrangements.

An agreed media handling plan should be in place prior to implementation of any mutual exchange arrangements.

These recommendations have been accepted and the National Policing Improvement Agency will lead on ensuring that they are followed. In addition, the UK agreed to the EU Council decision on PRUM in June 2007 which will provide member states’ law enforcement authorities with access to DNA and fingerprint data on a hit or no hit basis, and direct access to vehicle registration. This will allow for much quicker and improved tools to share data for the detection, investigation and prevention of serious crime whilst maintaining appropriate data protection safeguards. It is due to be implemented three years from adoption by the European Union Council of Ministers, which is expected shortly.

The report indicates that action has been taken since January 2008 to analyse the Dutch data and compare it to the UK DNA database. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made a commitment that Ministers will report to Parliament once the outcome of the police investigation following liaison with the Dutch authorities is complete.

Copies of the report will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.”