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Written Statements

Volume 490: debated on Monday 30 March 2009

Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 30 March 2009

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

UKAEA Limited

My noble Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has made the following statement.

We are announcing today the commencement of a sale process to dispose of 100 per cent. of UKAEA Ltd (offers will also be accepted for a partial offer), the commercial operations of the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA). The process will take the form of two stages, an initial stage which will allow bidders access to an information memorandum document written by Greenhill & Co and will request first round bids. Following this, a second stage, will allow a smaller number of interested parties access to detailed due diligence and put forward a further more detailed bid. It is the intention for Her Majesty’s Government to complete the transaction prior to the summer recess.

The sale is the next step in the development of the commercial business of UKAEA Ltd, which was first approved by Ministers in 2005. The sale is recognition of the work done by management in creating a commercially viable enterprise that has become an important repository of key nuclear skills that will help ensure that the UK will remain at the forefront of the nuclear services industry.

UKAEA Ltd principally undertakes nuclear decommissioning work under contract for Nuclear Decommissioning Authority-owned sites in the UK (Dounreay and Harwell/Winfrith). The business also has a fledgling consulting services business within the nuclear decommissioning sector under which it operates tier 2 and tier 3 smaller scale contracts for both the NDA and other owners.

The principal site of operation for UKAEA Ltd is Dounreay, located in the north-east of Scotland. The business also contains a pensions administration business which administers the pensions of several nuclear industry public sector operators.

The business plan of UKAEA Ltd aims to grow revenues by principally growing the consulting services provided by the business. Within the UK and internationally there are a significant number of “old” nuclear facilities for which decommissioning services will be required.

UKAEA Ltd’s key decommissioning site Dounreay will be competed in the next two years Government would like UKAEA Ltd to be in a position to enter the competition with clarity and stability over the business’s ownership.

This sale underlines the importance attached to the clean up of nuclear waste. It will increase efficiency, competition and value for money for the taxpayer in the decommissioning and clean up work of old nuclear power stations.

Communities and Local Government

Planning Call-in Direction and Circular

I am today publishing the Town and Country Planning (Consultation) (England) Direction 2009, appended to Circular 02/09. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House.

This direction, which comes into force on 20 April 2009, will require local planning authorities in England to consult the Secretary of State before granting planning permission for certain types of development for which they are minded to grant permission. It replaces all such existing directions, which are cancelled; and makes changes to the terms of some of them in the light of the consultation exercise undertaken during 2008 as explained in the accompanying Government response.

In line with the commitment given in the “Planning” White Paper in 2007, the changes will streamline the planning policy framework and give local planning authorities greater freedom in deciding their own planning applications. The changes also accord with the Killian Pretty recommendation to make the policy framework simpler and more user-friendly.

The new direction introduces a new requirement for local planning authorities to refer applications in circumstances where English Heritage are sustaining an objection on the grounds that a proposed development could have an adverse impact on the outstanding universal value, integrity, authenticity and significance of a world heritage site or its setting.

Additionally, the shopping direction is cancelled without replacement, as are the three elements of the current departures direction relating to housing; land belonging to the local planning authority; and “any other development which would—significantly prejudice the implementation of the development plan’s policies and proposals”. The current requirement to refer departures from the development plan which relate to proposals for more than 5,000 sq m of gross retail, leisure, office or mixed commercial floor space is extended to apply additionally to proposals for increases of existing floor space of over 2,500 sq m, where the total would then exceed 5,000 sq m. However, it will only apply to proposals on sites in edge or out of centre locations.

This new direction will not affect the Secretary of State’s power under section 77 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to direct that any particular planning application should be called in for her own determination irrespective of whether it falls within the terms of this direction. It will still be open to anyone to request that any application be considered for “call in”.

The direction, the accompanying impact assessment and the Government’s response to the consultation paper are available on the CLG website at: http://www.communities.gov.uk/corporate/publications/consultations/

At the same time, Communities and Local Government is cancelling a number of other planning circulars and other guidance documents which have become obsolete but have never been formally withdrawn. The details of the cancelled documents are available on the CLG website.

Regeneration

I am today announcing the revaluation of the 2007-13 programme of projects eligible for assistance through the European regional development fund. This is a prudent step to reflect the impact of changes in the exchange rate on the sterling value of the funds. With immediate effect, I can confirm there will be an increase of £144 million in the value of these programmes. This is money that is available to increase regional competitiveness, create and safeguard jobs, and stimulate economic growth. This will help regions minimise the impact of the recession.

I am also able to confirm, that because of the challenging economic circumstances, the European Commission has increased the advance payment due to the regional development agencies. This now totals £195 million (7.5 per cent. of the total programme). The extra £65 million of this will be paid to regional development agencies in late spring.

The actions I have described here will provide further help to these programmes to target worklessness, support small and medium enterprises and fund innovative, high-tech business investment and I have asked RDAs to revisit their programmes to ensure these reflect the Government’s priorities of creating and safeguarding jobs.

Late last year the European Commission offered member states the possibility of extending the 2000-06 programmes for a further six months until June 2009. The offer did not mean that there was any new money being offered by the EC. It was simply an offer of more time for those projects that had slipped against the previously planned schedule or those that had capacity to continue spending to produce additional outputs. There was little additional flexibility and it would have been unlikely that any new projects could be commissioned that met the requirements of the programmes and delivered in the time frame available. The European Commission recently offered us the opportunity to review this decision. We have done so carefully but there remains little advantage in England accepting this. Instead, we now want to ensure all efforts possible are made to help future projects and programmes maximise the substantially increased resources that are available in the new programme round (for the 2007-13 programme) which is just getting under way. Through these programmes a total of €3.2 billion (approximately £2.8 billion at today’s exchange rate) will be invested. Part of the requirement for the EC funding is that match funding must be secured for the ERDF grant. Match may come from a variety of sources, typically from RDAs, local authorities, other public bodies and private sector investors. This is tough in the current economic circumstances and we are aware of the challenges programme partners face in making the necessary investments quickly enough to have an impact.

I am therefore today writing to all the chairs of regional development agencies (who administer the 2007-13 programme round in England) to undertake a rapid joint stocktake of the match funding position to identify gaps and potential sources and to share best practice.

In addition, my officials are working collaboratively with the RDAs to help establish high spending programmes such as Joint European Resources for Micro to Medium Enterprises (JEREMIE) and Joint European Support for Sustainable Investment in City Areas (JESSICA) which are new financing schemes to support small and medium enterprises and help secure regeneration benefits in less well performing areas. We are working to overcome the barriers to these models and to technical issues relating to venture capital funds. These have the potential to create a sustainable investment legacy which over time will decrease reliance on European grants.

I am also taking the opportunity in this statement to report decisions by the European Commission which has now confirmed financial corrections for the 1997-99 programme period. These relate to the north-east and north-west regions. These programmes together are valued at £358 million and have been of substantial benefit to the regions. They have assisted more than 1,700 regeneration projects helping to boost employment, skills and business in disadvantaged areas. The financial correction for the north-east region is € 8,435,883.80 and for the north-west is €18,035,904.26. As the commission recognises we have worked hard to answer their concerns and there is no question of fraud or misuse of funds. These corrections are substantially reduced from the commission’s original findings as a result of the challenge we have offered in documentation and in strong representations at oral hearings.

We have made provision in our departmental accounts for these corrections. There will therefore be no impact on other priority areas of work, and I can also confirm that no local project will lose out or be asked to contribute given the length of time which has elapsed since projects started.

Defence

NATO Defence Ministerials (Krakow)

I attended an informal meeting of NATO Defence Ministers in Krakow, Poland on 19 and 20 February. It was in many ways a preparatory meeting for the NATO summit to be held in Strasbourg and Kehl next month. Ministers considered the progress being made on NATO’s wide-ranging transformation agenda, including the UK/French helicopter initiative, reforms to NATO’s command structures, ways of improving the way the headquarters in Brussels does its business, and work to make the NATO response force more sustainable. In the context of the latter, I introduced a proposal for a rapidly deployable alliance solidarity force for collective defence. This proposal will now be taken forward in the wider work on the NATO response force.

There were two sessions on operations: one as allies, and a wider discussion on Afghanistan with International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) contributing nations, Kai Eide (the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative) and General Wardak (the Afghan Defence Minister). Ministers welcomed the US announcement of increased force contributions to ISAF, reviewed ISAF’s expanded role in counter-narcotics, and agreed the need for a civil “surge” to accelerate development activities, and support for the Afghan Government. Ministers also welcomed agreement that another standing NATO maritime group will contribute in the coming months to the wider international efforts to fight piracy off the coast of Somalia.

Krakow concluded with meetings of the NATO-Ukraine Commission and the NATO-Georgia Commission, in which Defence Ministers were updated on Ukraine’s and Georgia’s progress against their annual national plans.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Animal Health (England)

I am today announcing publication of a consultation document inviting views on the Government’s proposals to establish a new independent body for animal health in England.

No one wants animal disease outbreaks, with the resultant suffering or even death of the animals affected and the lost production and income for their owners. Some animal diseases can also pose a threat to public health.

Owners and keepers of animals have the primary responsibility for the health of their own animals and preventing the risk of any diseases they incur spreading to other animals or into the food chain. But preventing, controlling and eradicating some diseases often requires Government action which can disrupt normal business (particularly in the livestock sector) and interfere with people’s everyday lives. These measures can be costly for the Government to implement and costly to those affected. They are justified by the benefit of avoiding the greater impact and costs from the diseases themselves.

Some of these benefits are gained by taxpayers generally (through protection of public health). But in many cases (such as foot and mouth disease or bluetongue) the main benefits are to the owners of the livestock who might otherwise become infected.

Much of the livestock industry has called publicly for changes in the way animal health policies are determined. The Government have been discussing many of these issues with industry since Sir Iain Anderson’s inquiry into the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001. Following the Government’s consultation document published in December 2007, policy options have been discussed with stakeholders and in the UK Responsibility and Cost Sharing Consultative Forum, which concluded its deliberations in July this year. These proposals build on the outcomes of this engagement with stakeholders and have benefited from the constructive challenge of the England implementation group.

The Government are seeking views on two fundamental changes to modernise the governance and funding of animal health policy: first, the establishment of a separate body for animal health in England run by an independent non-executive board including knowledge and experience from across the spectrum of interests in animal health; and secondly, a levy raised from livestock keepers according to the numbers and type of animals kept.

The proposed new body will provide greater transparency in decision making and increase confidence in the resultant policies. The body will continue to receive public funding for the bulk of its activities. The levy will be used to contribute to the costs of preparing for, and dealing with, exotic disease outbreaks. Those who gain from the eradication of these diseases will help pay for the costs of doing so, as Sir Iain Anderson recommended.

In setting up a new framework it is important to retain and build on the strengths of the current system. These include the effective protection of public health in partnership with the Food Standards Agency and the Department of Health; the partnership working with industry already developed, for example in tackling bluetongue; the veterinary and scientific expertise in DEFRA and its agencies; and the delivery capability of the Animal Health Executive Agency, as well as close co-operation with the devolved Administrations.

The fundamental changes proposed will require primary legislation. In the light of responses to this consultation the Government intend to prepare a draft Bill for consultation and scrutiny.

The consultation document sets out our proposals in greater detail and is accompanied by a partial impact assessment. But there is much still to be decided. Views and comments are invited to help develop these ahead of draft legislation.

These proposals should establish a governance and funding structure for tackling animal diseases that helps to reduce the risks and costs; creates confidence in the policies decided; and ensures those who benefit share the costs with taxpayers.

This consultation concerns England although it is proposed that the new organisation will take on the UK and GB responsibilities currently undertaken by DEFRA. I intend to continue discussions with ministerial colleagues in other parts of the UK to ensure continued co-operation and co-ordination on animal disease policies.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Colombia

The UK Government’s work in Colombia makes a significant and positive impact. To make it more effective and relevant, we are changing the way we deliver our objectives. I wish to inform the House of these changes.

Colombia’s strengths and progress over recent years are being undermined by continuing problems of abuse of human rights, poverty and inequality, impunity and the drugs trade. The Colombian people do not want conflict. Illegal armed, terrorist and guerrilla groups continue to kill and abuse, and have no place in a democratic society. We support the Colombian Government’s determination to tackle these groups in accordance with international humanitarian law, including addressing the drugs trade that causes significant health, social and environmental harm to both of our countries.

Our policy needs to take full account of these challenges. We have therefore reviewed and are reprioritising what we are doing in Colombia. The changes we are making will give new focus to the UK’s contribution to peace, prosperity and justice for Colombia’s people, to the mutual benefit of both our countries.

Counter-Narcotics

We will continue our important counter-narcotics work in Colombia, including supporting projects totalling over £900,000 of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime in Bogota. Our capacity building work in Colombia is helping to bring down trafficking networks, put those involved in jail, seize cocaine destined for the UK, disrupt traffickers’ financing networks, and seize the proceeds of their crimes. It is vital that we continue it.

Impunity

We will make tackling impunity a priority, and have allocated £250,000 next financial year for projects in this area implemented by the UK and other partners. Too many people in Colombia commit crimes without fear of justice or punishment, and our work will aim to help the Colombian criminal justice system develop its ability to tackle impunity.

Human rights and humanitarian demining engagement with the Colombian armed forces

We have achieved our objective of helping the Colombian Government develop a roadmap to promote their military’s adherence to international humanitarian law. The Government share the concerns of many in the House that there are officers and soldiers of the Colombian armed forces who have been involved in, or allowed, abuses. The challenge for the Colombian Government is to ensure the strategic human rights principles we have helped to promote are embedded and consistently practised by all members of their armed services. We will continue to offer our political, and, where possible, financial and practical support to UN projects that aim to help promote human rights adherence within the Colombian armed forces. Our bilateral human rights projects with the Colombian Ministry of Defence will cease.

The UK’s humanitarian demining training has contributed significantly to the removal of the landmines that kill and maim innocent Colombians. We now plan to integrate this work more fully with that of international governmental and non-governmental partners.

Human rights and promoting civil society

We will continue our work on strengthening human rights, promoting civil society and supporting human rights defenders. We support a large number of projects in areas such as freedom of speech, democracy and tackling discrimination. For example, we have recently supported a UN project to improve criminal prosecution of sexual crimes committed against women and girls, and we are working with journalists in Colombia to improve capacity for investigative journalism in conflict and peace issues. Projects already approved for the next financial year and beyond total almost £1 million and a further £170,000 is to be allocated for human rights projects. With British trade union partners, we will continue to look at ways in which the UK can promote labour relations in Colombia. The Department for International Development’s (DFID) Latin America Partnership Programme Arrangement, worth £13 million per year for the region, will also focus on promoting more accountable public and political systems and on HIV and AIDS, climate change and giving poor and marginalised people a greater voice. DFID also provides substantial contributions to the European Commission and international financial institutions’ aid programmes in Colombia—in 2007-08 this totalled £3.l million.

Working with EU and other partners, we will continue to encourage a stronger relationship between the Colombian Government and civil society. Our staff in Colombia meet with many who have received threats, and will continue to do so.

Our ongoing work in Colombia on other issues, including addressing climate change (where our regional projects that include Colombia total £900,000) and promoting trade and investment, will continue.

FCO Services

My noble Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Lord Malloch-Brown has made the following written ministerial statement:

FCO Services operates as a trading fund of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). I have set the following performance targets for 2009-10:

An in-year surplus before interest and tax of at least £2.9 million.

A return on capital employed of at least 3.5 per cent. (weighted average).

Wider market revenue growth of 10 per cent. on that achieved in 2008-09.

A contribution to the FCO’s comprehensive spending review commitments by delivering £6 million of cumulative cash savings over the two years 2008-09 and 2009-10.

A utilisation rate for revenue earning staff of at least 75 per cent.

A customer satisfaction rating of at least 85 per cent. satisfied or very satisfied.

FCO Services will report to Parliament on its success against these targets through its annual report for 2009-10.

Health

Health and Adult Social Care

Today I am publishing a consultation document, which is the latest stage in the development of the new system we are introducing for the regulation of health and adult social care.

The publication, “Response to consultation on the framework for the registration of health and adult social care providers and consultation on draft regulations” sets out our response to our previous consultation, “The future regulation of health and adult social care in England: A consultation on the framework for the regulation of health and adult social care”. It describes the new registration framework for the new Care Quality Commission, to be introduced from April 2010. It also launches a new consultation on the content of the draft regulations.

From 1 April 2009, the Care Quality Commission will take over from the Healthcare Commission, the Commission for Social Care Inspection and the Mental Health Act Commission.

For 2009-10, the new commission will continue to regulate adult social care and private and voluntary healthcare under the terms of the Care Standards Acts 2000. Also in 2009-10, it will regulate national health service providers against regulations made under the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (the 2008 Act) relating to healthcare associated infections, which were recently approved by Parliament.

From April 2010, the commission will operate a new registration system based on regulations to be made under the 2008 Act. It is the content of these regulations we are now consulting on.

The draft regulations set out who needs to register with the new commission (scope of registration) and what they need to do to register and remain registered (registration requirements).

The new approach will mean that patients and people using services will have the same level of assurance of the quality and safety of their care and treatment, whether it is being provided by the NHS, local government or the independent sector.

The registration requirements are designed to address the concerns of people using health and adult social care services, covering the topics on which they want assurance. They provide clarity about the essential levels of safety and quality all providers must deliver for people who use their services, without being prescriptive about how providers run their services.

The registration system will operate alongside a wider quality improvement framework that encourages not just good care, but excellent care. The commission will have a role in contributing to ongoing quality improvement as part of the wider quality framework, particularly through its publication of comparable information in periodic reviews, and its power to conduct special reviews into areas of particular interest.

Regulation plays a vital role within the Government’s drive to make quality the organising principle of care. “High quality care for all” set out that vision for the NHS, but the underpinning ambition and principles apply equally across all forms of health and adult social care. The White Paper: “Our health, our care, our say: a new direction for community services” (January 2006), which is available in the Library, described the framework that is now used for promoting quality in adult social care services and set out the seven key outcomes that adult social care should deliver.

This publication will be of interest to anyone providing or working in health and adult social care, and to patients and people using services, who are interested in how the reforms are going to improve these services.

Today’s publication has been placed in the Library and copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office.

Justice

Her Majesty's Courts Service

The following list of key performance indicators has been set for Her Majesty’s Courts Service for 2009-2010:

To commence 78 per cent. of cases within the following time scales in the Crown court:

defendants’ cases that are sent for trial within 26 weeks of sending;

defendants’ committal for trial cases within 16 weeks of committal;

appeals within 14 weeks of the appeal being lodged; and

committals for sentence within 10 weeks of committal.

To speed up criminal cases in the magistrates courts so that, for charged cases, the average time from charge to disposal is less than six weeks.

Time taken to produce and send court results to the police:

95 per cent. of court registers produced and despatched within three working days.

100 per cent. of court registers produced and despatched within six working days.

To achieve an 85 per cent. payment rate for financial penalties in the magistrates courts.

For 60 per cent. of all breached community penalties to be resolved within 25 working days of the relevant failure to comply.

To increase the proportion of defended small claims that are completed otherwise than by court hearing to 65 per cent.

To increase the proportion of defended small claims that are completed (from receipt to final hearing) within 30 weeks to at least 70 per cent.

To increase the amount of civil work initiated online— 65 per cent. of eligible possession claims through possession claim online and 75 per cent. of specified money claims through money claim online and via the Claims Production Centre.

To ensure that 48 per cent. of care and supervision cases in the county court and 56 per cent. in the magistrates court are completed within 40 weeks.

To maintain the “very satisfied” element of the HMCS court user satisfaction survey at or above the 2007- 08 baseline of 41 per cent.

More information on these and other key supporting targets are published in the “HM Courts Service Business Plan for 2009-10”. Copies of the business plan for 2009-10 have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.