Skip to main content

Written Statements

Volume 488: debated on Tuesday 24 February 2009

Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 24 February 2009

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

Trawlermen Scheme

Further to my statement on 11 December 2008, Official Report, column 63WS, I am pleased to announce that we have today released a consultation paper, in which we are seeking views on the details of a new scheme to compensate former Icelandic water trawlermen who lost their livelihoods following the cod wars in the 1970s.

Copies of the consultation paper can be viewed at: www.berr.gov.uk/files/file49973.pdf. Views must be submitted by 8th May 2009. I will place copies of the consultation paper in the Libraries of the House.

Children, Schools and Families

School Revenue Balances 2007-08

The Department for Children, Schools and Families has today published information on the end of financial year revenue balances of all local authority maintained nursery, primary, secondary and special schools for 2007-08.

This information is presented alongside information on schools’ revenue balances for the financial years 1999-2000 to 2006-07 published on 1 April 2008. The information is taken from local authorities’ published section 52 outturn statements for the years in question but presents this in summary form. Copies of the information have been placed in the Libraries and will be accessible from the Department for Children, Schools and Families website, at:

http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/localauthorities/section52/subpage.cfm?action=section52.default.default&ID=58

Surplus balances totalled £2 billion and deficits £120 million at the end of 2007-08, giving net total revenue balances of £1.9 billion. This represents an increase of £248.6 million or 14.9 per cent. compared to the position at the end of 2006-07. At school level, 91.7 per cent. of schools held a surplus balance, with 38.3 per cent. holding an excessive balance, defined in guidance from my Department as over 8 per cent. of budget for primary and special schools and over 5 per cent. of budget for secondary schools. Excessive surpluses totalled £591.9 million.

The Government believe that the national total of revenue balances and in particular the level of surplus held by some individual schools is too high. While it is clearly sound financial management for schools to retain a small surplus from year to year, we expect revenue funding to be used for the salaries of staff at the school and on learning resources to support the education of pupils in school now, working towards raising attainment and narrowing the gaps in attainment between disadvantaged children and the rest. We would not normally expect schools to need to use it for capital improvement projects, given that separate capital funding is available. Where a school is in deficit, it must agree a recovery plan with the local authority to eliminate the deficit, normally over three years.

As I made clear in my previous statements to the House on 30 October 2007, Official Report, column 29WS, and 1 April 2008, Official Report, column 36WS, about school finances, we expect schools and local authorities to work to reduce the level of balances by the end of 2010-11 and to make full use of their power to claw back excess, uncommitted surpluses and redistribute the proceeds back to local schools in consultation with schools forums. If we do not see a substantial reduction of total revenue balances and the excessive balances held by individual schools, the Government will consult on further action from 2011-12 to bring the total down.

In the meantime the Department continues to work with its partners to prepare further advice for local authorities on effective claw-back of balances, including examples of good practice.

Communities and Local Government

Local Spending Reports

We have published a consultation on the first arrangements for the production of local spending reports, which is a requirement of the Sustainable Communities Act 2007. This document has been placed in the Library of the House and is available on the Department for Communities and Local Government website at:

www.communities.gov.uk/publications/localgovernment/localspendingreportsconsultation

The Sustainable Communities Act 2007 was introduced to Parliament as a private Member’s Bill and aims to promote the sustainability of local communities in England. It is based on the principle that local people know best what needs to be done to promote the sustainability of their area, but that sometimes they need central Government to act to enable this to happen. In October 2008, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government invited local authorities to submit proposals, via the Local Government Association in its capacity as ‘the selector’, which they consider would contribute to promoting the sustainability of local communities. The deadline for the submission of proposals to the Local Government Association is 31 July 2009.

The Act requires the Secretary of State to make arrangements for the production of local spending reports and to make the first arrangements for the production of these reports before 23 April 2009. The reports will provide information on expenditure by bodies exercising public functions in an area and over a period of time. The aim of these reports is to assist local authorities, their partners and local people in promoting the sustainability of local communities by providing more information about the public funding that is spent in their area.

Before making arrangements the Act requires the Secretary of State to consult such persons likely to be affected by the arrangements as the Secretary of State thinks appropriate. This will enable the Government to develop local spending reports which are useful and whose cost is likely to justify their benefit. This consultation paper is in two phases. Firstly, proposals for how the Government will put in place the first arrangements for local spending reports and, secondly, seeking views on how local spending reports might develop over time.

The first phase of the consultation closes on the 3 April 2009. We intend to make the first local spending reports available as soon as possible after that. The second phase of the consultation on how these reports might develop on a longer-term basis closes on 15 May 2009.

Energy and Climate Change

Environment Council

Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Ed Miliband, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, will represent the UK at the Environment Council in Brussels on 2 March.

At Environment Council Ministers will discuss the development of the EU position on a comprehensive post-2012 climate agreement in Copenhagen and subsequently adopt Council conclusions. Climate change discussions will continue over the ministerial lunch.

The Czech presidency will also hold a discussion on the proposal for a directive on industrial emissions, integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC Directive). The debate will focus on the scope of the proposal; the status of the European reference documents on best available techniques, “the BREFs”; the need for further “minimum requirements” and the large combustion plant provisions.

Furthermore, there will be a policy debate and adoption of Council conclusions on contributions to the Spring European Council, 19 and 20 March.

The Council will also be asked to adopt three council decisions regarding the provisional prohibition on the use and sale of two GM maize lines in Austria and one GM maize line in Hungary.

Finally, the Council will aim to adopt a Council decision on the proposal establishing the position to be adopted on behalf of the European community with regard to proposals for amendments to the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling and its Schedule.

Under ‘any other business’, the Czech presidency will provide information on the fall in demand for recycled materials and the 25th Session of the UNEP Governing Council (Nairobi, 16-20 February 2009). Furthermore the European Commission will present proposals for a directive on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment and for a directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). The Commission will also present a communication on a mid-term assessment of implementing the EC Biodiversity Action Plan.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Food and Environment Research Agency

I am pleased to announce that, following careful consideration, the UK Government Decontamination Service (GDS) (an executive Agency of DEFRA) will join the new Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) that DEFRA is establishing, from 1 April 2009. The remit and functions of the GDS, which I announced on 13 October 2008, will continue as a badged service provided by the Food and Environment Research Agency. That is, it will still be known as the UK Government Decontamination Service. This gives FERA a wider national emergency response and recovery capability, supporting UK resilience. In particular, the inclusion of GDS within FERA will strengthen the science capability underpinning GDS functions and areas of expertise.

The GDS will cease to be a separate executive agency on 31 March 2009. Its annual report and accounts for 2008-09 will be completed and presented to Parliament in due course.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Binyam Mohamed

Mr.Binyam Mohamed returned to the UK yesterday, 23 February, following his release from Guantanamo Bay. A team of Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) officials, including a doctor, met with Mr. Mohamed on 14 February and confirmed there were no immediate medical concerns that would prevent him from travelling to the UK. The same team, along with officers of the Metropolitan Police Service, accompanied Mr. Mohamed on his return to the UK. The FCO was in close contact with Mr. Mohamed’s family and legal representatives to inform them of his return.

This is the direct result of our request for his release and return, and follows intensive negotiations with the US Government over the past 18 months, since my request to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on 7 August 2007. These negotiations included pressing for and securing the disclosure by the US to Mr. Mohamed’s lawyers of the 42 documents, which were the subject of a judicial review in the English courts, that could be used for Mr. Mohamed’s defence. Further public disclosure of these documents remains a matter for the US Administration. In this regard we welcome the US Attorney General’s order for a review of all the assertions of the state secrets privilege in the US Courts.

The Government abhor torture and do not order or condone it. We have raised with the US allegations of mistreatment put to us by UK nationals or residents currently or formerly detained at Guantanamo Bay, including Mr. Mohamed. The question of possible criminal wrongdoing that arose in Mr. Mohamed’s case was referred by the Home Secretary to the Attorney General for her to consider. This was, as the court acknowledged, the proper legal process.

Mr. Mohamed’s return does not constitute a commitment by the Home Secretary that he may remain permanently in the UK. His immigration status is being reviewed following his return. As always, the Government’s top priority is national security, and should any steps be necessary, we will take them.

Mr. Mohamed is the first Guantanamo detainee to be released under President Obama’s Administration. We have welcomed, and strongly support, the Obama Administration’s aim to close Guantanamo. Our request for Shaker Aamer’s return to the UK remains and we stand ready to share our experience in receiving former detainees with European member states, and others, as they consider how they can assist towards closure.

Justice

Defamation Proceedings

I have today issued a consultation paper “Controlling Costs in Defamation Proceedings”.

The high level of costs incurred in defamation and some other publication proceedings has been the subject of criticism and debate in the courts and Parliament. The risk of excessive costs may force defendants to settle unmeritorious claims, which in turn may encourage a more risk-averse approach to media reporting and is a risk to freedom of expression. The Government are therefore consulting on measures designed to place more effective controls on the costs in defamation and some other publication related proceedings. The measures include:

Limiting recoverable hourly rates by setting either maximum or fixed recoverable rates;

Mandatory or mandatory consideration of cost capping;

Linking recoverability of ATE Insurance premiums to notification and introducing a period of non-recoverability post notification; and

Requiring the proportionality of total costs to be considered on cost assessments conducted by the court.

These proposals would work to: help deal with the threat of excessive hourly rates and base rates; limit the recoverability of after the event insurance premiums in certain circumstances; and enable the court to assess different cost elements together to ensure that the costs are proportionate and reasonable.

The measures, if accepted, would be implemented by way of amendments to the Civil Procedure Rules, practice directions and protocols, as appropriate.

Copies of the consultation paper have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The paper is also available on the Ministry of Justice website at www.justice.gov.uk. Copies have also been made available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. The consultation period will close on 6 May.

Prime Minister

Berlin Summit (February)

I attended a Summit in Berlin on 22 February hosted by Chancellor Merkel for the Leaders and Finance Ministers of the EU countries who will attend the London Summit in April, the ECB President, the Eurogroup Chair and the Governor of the Bank of England. I was accompanied by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

We agreed on the need to take decisive action to stabilise the global economy, to secure jobs and growth for the future. We need to support our financial systems and get lending moving to business and households, working together to maximise benefits and minimise the impact of these actions on competition.

Across Europe countries have adopted comprehensive fiscal, monetary and structural measures to support the economy and to secure growth and employment. We agreed on the need for common principles to minimise the impact of the measures we are taking, to support the economy on competition, and to deal with impaired assets in our financial systems.

We agreed on the urgent need to increase the resources available to the international financial institutions to sustain global demand, to protect the poorest, and address the impact of the financial crisis on emerging markets, including at least a doubling of resources for the IMF to $500 billion. We expressed our concern at the growing impact of the global financial crisis on the banking sectors in central and eastern Europe and the need for the EU to take a lead in addressing it.

We agreed to work together to strengthen our financial systems:

all financial institutions should be subject to appropriate oversight or regulation, including hedge funds. Regulation must be on the basis of what institutions do and the risks they pose, not on what they call themselves;

credit rating agencies should be subject to mandatory registration and oversight;

we need decisive action against tax havens and unco-operative jurisdictions including the need to set up a list of unco-operative jurisdictions and a toolbox of sanctions. We cannot allow the world economy to be distorted by regulatory havens and tax havens;

financial institutions must pay their employees in a way that does not contribute to excessive risk-taking. We asked the Financial Stability Forum to move quickly to produce principles for all countries to follow to make incentives more transparent and closely linked to sustainable business growth;

we should agree a charter of principles on financial regulation;

we should establish supervisory colleges for cross-border financial institutions to improve international co-operation on financial oversight.

We agreed we need to reform the IMF and Financial Stability Forum to provide early warning systems, and set out a clear timetable in London for reforming the governance of the international institutions to reflect the changing world economy. We must continue to work for an ambitious agreement on climate change in Copenhagen.

We are resolved that global problems need global solutions. We need a global new deal to aid the recovery of the world economy and a set of principles for a sound economic future.

We will work together in the run-up to the London Summit to make sure that by our co-operation and our determination to act together we can not only inject the confidence that is necessary in the world economy but also build anew the economic activity that is necessary for the jobs, for the security that the people of the world want.

Transport

Drivers' Hours (Exemption for Reservists)

I am pleased to announce today that the European Commission has agreed to the Government’s request for an exemption from Regulation (EC) 561/2006 on drivers’ hours for professional drivers operating solely within the UK when they are reservists undergoing military training or providing instruction to members of a Cadet Corps approved by the Secretary of State for Defence.

This exemption, which has been granted in accordance with the provisions in Article 14.1 of Regulation (EC) 561/2006, applies to the weekly rest requirements in Article 8(2) and 8(6) of Regulation (EC) 561/2006. It will enable a driver who finishes his normal driving duties on a Friday to complete a 34 hour period of military training as a volunteer reservist or as an instructor in the Cadet Corps and then resume his normal driving duties again on a Monday morning.

The following safeguards have been incorporated into the exemption to ensure that road safety is not jeopardised:

the exemption will apply to 15 days’ annual camp and 10 weekend training sessions per annum—a total of 35 days. Weekend training will not be allowed to take place on consecutive weeks (other than in respect of the 15-day annual camp);

a regular daily rest period of 11 hours must be taken between the end of weekend training and start of work for the primary employer;

a regular weekly rest period of 45 hours must be taken no later than at the end of the sixth day following a period of weekend training.

Until such time as the exemption can be transposed into domestic legislation, it will be implemented by administrative means. The Ministry of Defence will be issuing guidelines that outline how drivers can manage their volunteer reserve service in accordance with the exemption, and a copy of the European Commission’s Decision will be published on the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency website.

Work and Pensions

Disability Benefits

My right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Anne McGuire), the then Minister for Disabled People, notified the House on 3 April 2008 that following the European Court of Justice decision of 18 October 2007 we would in due course 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 (EEA) and Switzerland for those people who wish to claim these benefits from abroad.

We have now carefully considered the full terms of the judgment and the provisions of European legislation which co-ordinates social security systems within the EEA and Switzerland, as it applies to the UK’s disability benefits and their re-classification under European law as sickness benefits. Details of the eligibility criteria for payments of the disability benefits have been posted on the Directgov website on the pages: “Taking disability benefits to other European countries”1, and “Claiming disability benefits if you live in another European country”2.

Customers who would like more information about the effects of the judgment should contact the address below:

Pension, Disability and Carers Service, Room C216, Warbreck House, Warbreck Hill Rd, Blackpool, FY2 OYE.

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

Customers who have already contacted the exportability team about the judgment do not need to contact them again. Their original enquiries will be dealt with as quickly as possible.

1www.direct.gov.uk/takingbenefits

2www.direct.gov.uk/claimingbenefits