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Written Statements

Volume 494: debated on Wednesday 24 June 2009

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 24 June 2009

Cabinet Office

Report to Parliament on Civil Service Delegations/Authorisations

During 2007 delegations/authorisations were made to the Ministry of Justice, the Welsh Assembly Government and the National School of Government and in 2008, to the Government Equalities Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The delegations/authorisations were made subject to the condition that recipients comply with the provisions of the civil service management code as amended from time to time. Copies of the civil service management code are available in the Library of the House and electronically at: http://beta.civilservice.gov.uk/about/work/codes/csmc/index.aspx

Any delegations/authorisations made in 2009 will be reported in spring 2010.

Treasury

Financial Services Authority Annual Report

The annual report 2008-09 of the Financial Services Authority (FSA) has today been laid before Parliament. Copies have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

The report forms a key part of the accountability mechanism for the Financial Services Authority under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (FSMA), and assesses the performance of the Financial Services Authority over the past 12 months against its statutory objectives.

Culture, Media and Sport

Sports Betting Integrity Panel

The Government are determined to ensure that everything possible is done to maintain the integrity and reputation of sport. I am therefore delighted to announce that I am bringing together a new sports betting integrity panel under the chairmanship of Rick Parry. This panel will include representatives of the betting industry; sports governing bodies; players; the Gambling Commission; and the police. The panel’s main focus will be the design and implementation of an integrated strategy to uphold integrity in sports and associated betting.

The vast majority of sports betting is legal and fair, and enhances the enjoyment of sport for many fans. But betting also provides an opportunity and an incentive for corrupting sport through the use of unfair or illegal betting practices.

The Government are concerned that, although considerable progress has been made in recent years by sports governing bodies, the betting industry and the Gambling Commission, the possible threat to the integrity of sport remains an ever present and complex problem requiring multi-agency solutions.

If the UK is to maintain its reputation as a jurisdiction where fair play is the guiding principle for both sport and betting, it is vital that the risks of corruption arising from all sources are reduced as far as possible.

The sports themselves—governing bodies, clubs and players—the betting industry and enforcement authorities, principally the Gambling Commission and the police, all play important roles. To help co-ordinate the work of those parties, and to facilitate collaboration between them, the panel will bring together key people from the principal organisations involved, under the chairmanship of Rick Parry, to look at these issues and make recommendations on how the various bodies concerned can work together more effectively.

Within six months the panel will recommend to me a practical, effective and proportionate plan of action that has the support of those responsible for delivery.

Mr. Parry is currently chief executive of Liverpool football club and has many years’ experience in professional sport at a senior level. I believe this experience makes him an ideal person to chair the panel and I look forward to working with him.

The members of the panel will include:

Nic Coward, Chief Executive, BHA

Simon Barker, Director of the Professional Players Federation and ex-pro footballer

Ian Seabridge, Asst Chief Constable, ACPO lead on Gambling

Darren Bailey, Director of Governance, The FA

Mark Davies, Managing Director, Betfair

Chris Caisley, Partner, Walker Morris Lawyers—Head of Sports Law Group

Dave Boyle, Chief Executive, Supporters Direct

Nick Tofiluk, Director of Regulation, Gambling Commission

Ben Gunn CBE QPM, Sporting Integrity Expert

Mike Smith, Chairman, Tote

Mike O’Kane, Trading Director, Ladbrokes

Bill South, Director of Security, William Hill

Defence

Afghanistan Air Support

The statement by my predecessor, the right hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Bob Ainsworth) on 25 February 2009, Official Report, columns 24-25WS, referred to a delay from spring until summer 2009 of the deployment of Tornado GR4 aircraft to replace a broadly similar force of Harrier GR9 aircraft at Kandahar airfield, Afghanistan.

I can confirm that necessary supporting infrastructure at Kandahar is now in place and all Tornado GR4 urgent operational requirement enhancements have been delivered. Consequently Tornado GR4 aircraft deployed to Kandahar in mid-June and, after a period of joint operations with the Harrier force, today the Tornado GR4 force has taken over sole responsibility for RAF fast jet support in Afghanistan.

The transition from Harrier to Tornado in theatre has been seamless. During the handover the Tornado force has proved that it is fully capable of fulfilling all the roles required of it in support of coalition ground forces. Those forces will continue to benefit from the flexibility and broad range of capabilities offered by UK fast jet aircraft.

The remaining elements of the Harrier force are preparing to leave Kandahar shortly, with the final Harrier personnel planning to return to their home base at RAF Cottesmore in early July. Joint Force Harrier has made a significant and acclaimed contribution to coalition air operations during its four and a half years service in Afghanistan and the personnel within this force can be proud of all their many achievements in this operational theatre.

Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre Feasibility Study

I am pleased to announce that a feasibility study will be undertaken to look at the possibility of establishing a Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre in around 10 years’ time, looking at how the whole issue of rehabilitation should be developed in 21st century terms. The study will build on the remarkable achievements of the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre (DMRC) at Headley Court in Surrey, and exploit what we and others have learnt in recent times about complex injury. It will look at doing so in the context of creating a national centre for civilian as well as military rehabilitation. We shall also look at the inclusion of rehabilitation research, the potential for developing further our world-class para-Olympic athletes and a “train the trainer” capability for rehabilitation in conflict and post-conflict afflicted states. We shall be considering potential sites in the midlands with close links to the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine, and estimate that the study will take about a year to complete.

The feasibility study will consult widely across Government, the NHS and the charitable sector. The trades unions will also be consulted fully. An external benefactor has agreed to sponsor this feasibility work. This continues a long and distinguished tradition of charitable involvement in the care of injured service personnel, including in this context the work of the Headley Court Trust, Help for Heroes, SSAFA, BLESMA and Brain Injury and Rehabilitation Trust (BIRT), to name only a few. I stress that this work will scope possible options for creating a Defence and National Centre with the defence capability at its core—there are no foregone conclusions.

The Government are committed to delivering state-of-the-art treatment for our injured service personnel. They deserve nothing but the best. The MOD continues to invest in DMRC at Headley Court to ensure its provision of world-class care. We would only envisage leaving Headley Court if there were an assured level of future care that surpassed even that which is offered by DMRC’s current and planned capabilities.

While this work is long term, an immediate issue is attending to the convalescence and recovery of service people, not least those who have been treated at the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine and have subsequently undergone rehabilitation at Headley Court. To that end, a defence-led study is under way to consider how to make the best possible provision in this area, starting with a pathfinder centre near Edinburgh, in conjunction with the charities Erskine Homes and Help for Heroes. The pathfinder will enable us to learn lessons, which will help inform our judgment about how best to provide convalescent care in the future and help prepare wounded, injured and sick personnel to return to duty or transition to civilian life.

People Pay and Pensions Agency

The key targets that I have set the chief executive of the People, Pay and Pensions Agency are as follows:

Delivering Results

Individual performance targets have been agreed between the agency and the MOD as its principal customer reflecting both business requirements and the need to continue to drive down costs through efficiency improvements.

Key Target 1—Achieve agreed unit cost targets for salary payments; expenses payments; pension awards; internal posting; external recruitment; manpower substitution; promotion assessments; subject access request; and the working patterns and leavers service. These targets reflect financial savings which are expected to arise from efficiency gains.

Key Target 2Achieve key performance indicators for timeliness and accuracy set in the agency’s service level agreement. The indicators cover salary payments, pensions and HR transactions and advice.

Key Target 3—Achieve key performance indicators for access to the agency’s services. The detailed indicators cover availability and speed of responses of both its call centres and its major online electronic service.

Reputation

Key Target 4Achieve customer satisfaction targets set in the agency's service level agreement: 78 per cent. satisfaction index for pay, pensions and expenses services; 64 per cent. satisfaction index for HR services; 85 per cent. for sampled users satisfied or better.

How We Work

Key Target 5—Achieve second phase of HR service maturity programme by March 2010. In conjunction with customers, a small number of specific projects have been agreed for reviewing and improving HR services and procedures which have high business priority.

Reputation

Key Target 6—Maintain and extend customer service excellence and other external accreditations by March 2010.

Energy and Climate Change

Offshore Energy Strategic Environmental Assessment

My noble Friend the Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, today made the following statement:

I am today announcing the outcome of the Offshore Energy Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), and I am publishing a policy document, “A Prevailing Wind: Advancing UK Offshore Wind Deployment”, that explains in more detail the Government’s decision on the offshore wind element of the draft plan/programme. The policy document draws together the key ongoing and planned work to enable large-scale deployment of offshore wind, as well as setting out the next steps. A copy of this document will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

In 2006, DECC initiated a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) on a draft plan/programme to hold further rounds of offshore oil and gas licensing, including licensing of gas storage in hydrocarbon reservoirs, and some 25 GW of additional offshore wind leasing in United Kingdom waters. The SEA is documented on a dedicated website (www.offshore-sea.org.uk) and includes a range of field surveys, technical studies and syntheses of data commissioned to underpin the SEA assessment. For offshore (seaward) oil and gas licensing and for offshore gas storage licensing the SEA covered all UK waters. For offshore wind leasing, the SEA covered those parts of the UK renewable energy zone and the territorial waters of England and Wales where the water depth is around 60 metres or less. The Scottish Executive and Northern Ireland Executive are the competent authorities for conducting Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs) within their territorial waters. Both of these authorities are currently undertaking SEAs for the purposes of enabling offshore wind leasing in these areas.

An expert assessment workshop was held to consider the key issues to be addressed in assessing the draft plan/programme. In addition, three sector-specific workshops and three wider stakeholder workshops were also held to gather industry perspectives and stakeholder input on relevant issues. The results of these workshops were assessed further and documented in an environmental report which then formed the basis for statutory, public and international consultation. In January 2009, the three-month consultation period on DECC’s draft plan/programme and environmental report commenced and was advertised in a number of local and national newspapers and by e-mail notification to a wide range of individuals and organisations.

All responses received from consultees on the draft plan/programme and the environmental report have been considered by DECC and a post-consultation report for the offshore energy SEA has been prepared and placed on the SEA website today. This summarises consultee comments and DECC responses to them, and presents a final list of recommendations, some of which have been revised following feedback from consultees. The full texts of consultee comments have also been placed on the SEA website.

DECC has now fully considered the conclusions and recommendations of the offshore energy SEA environmental report together with feedback received from consultees. In the light of the final recommendations set out in the post-consultation report, the Department concludes that there are no overriding environmental considerations to prevent the achievement of our draft plan/programme of leasing for offshore wind, and licensing of oil and gas production, and gas storage, if mitigation measures are implemented to prevent, reduce and offset significant adverse effects.

In all cases, the relevant competent authority will undertake any appropriate assessment(s) prior to awarding licences or leases under the rounds, if required following screening. This is required under EU Council Directive 79/409 EEC on “the conservation of wild birds” and Council Directive 92/43/EEC on “the conservation of natural habitats and wild fauna and flora”, and UK implementing regulations.

Monitoring the potentially significant environmental effects identified within the SEA will be undertaken using existing mechanisms and those to be set up under the auspices of the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) and Marine Management Organisation (MMO).

For offshore wind, the Crown Estate is the leasing authority and can now proceed with offshore wind leasing competition(s). Within UK waters, the Government have decided that there should be spatial restrictions on offshore wind development in specific geographic areas as indicated in the recommendations of the post-consultation report. These spatial restrictions are issue and criteria-based, including for example military practice and exercise areas, airspace danger areas and International Maritime Organisation routes. As these boundaries and locations may change over time, the maps contained in the environmental report are indicative.

As the offshore wind policy document “A Prevailing Wind” published today makes clear, the Government, and DECC in particular, will have a continuing role to play in facilitating policy interventions necessary to help deliver the offshore wind element of our plan/programme. DECC, with the Crown Estate, has a cross-departmental Offshore Wind Delivery Board to develop and oversee this work.

For oil and gas, DECC will now proceed with preparations for a further round—the 26th—of offshore licensing. This is expected to be launched early next year—a further announcement will be made on the timing of the round.

For offshore gas storage, DECC will be the licensing authority and the Crown Estate will be the leasing authority, working in parallel with each other. DECC is currently considering the responses to the recent “Consultation on the proposed offshore gas storage and unloading licensing scheme”. DECC will issue the Government response in due course, indicating how the licensing scheme is to go forward.

Health

Cervical Screening

I announced in my written ministerial statement on l3 March 2009, Official Report, column 36WS, that we had asked the independent Advisory Committee on Cervical Screening (ACCS) to formally review the evidence relating to risks and benefits of cervical screening in women under 25 years, including current evidence regarding incidence and mortality in young women.

The review took place at an extraordinary meeting of the ACCS held on 19 May 2009. The ACCS is an independent ministerially appointed committee, with most members nominated by their respective professional bodies. A number of guests were also invited to the review meeting to ensure all opinions and available evidence were heard, including the voluntary sector and patients.

No new scientific evidence was presented to the review meeting to support the reintroduction of screening in women under 25. Indeed some new evidence was presented indicating that screening is of little or no benefit in women in this age group. There is evidence that treatment following screening in this age group can lead to an increased risk of subsequent premature births, increasing the risk of babies dying or having severe disabilities. Evidence was also presented that showed there has been no significant increase in the number of women aged under 25 contracting or dying from cervical cancer since the policy change in 2004.

Members of the committee were unanimous that there was no reason to lower the age at which screening commences, which is in line with international recommendations

Members of the committee were, however, concerned that young women who present to their general practitioners with gynaecological symptoms are not always being given appropriate advice. They strongly recommended that the Department of Health should take further action in this area, and the ACCS will be considering how best to take this forward as a matter of urgency at their meeting on 25 June 2009. Members also recommended that more effort is made in increasing the uptake of cervical screening in women aged 25 to 34, where coverage has been falling in recent years. We will develop plans with NHS Cancer Screening Programmes and the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative to take this forward.

The committee will keep the decision closely under review, especially by monitoring the incidence of cervical cancer in young women. In the interests of transparency, the minutes of the review meeting have been placed in the Library and are available at: www.dh.gov.uk/en/Healthcare/Cancer/index.htm

I would like to thank Jo’s Trust for their contribution to the review, and pay tribute to the family of Claire Walker for continuing to raise the awareness of cervical cancer.

Employment Strategy (Learning Disabilities)

The Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Minister with responsibility for disabled people, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw) and I are today publishing a new strategy—“Valuing Employment Now: Real jobs for people with learning disabilities”.

The Government are committed to supporting more people with learning disabilities into jobs. “Valuing People Now, a new three-year strategy for people with learning disabilities” published on 19 January 2009, emphasised that people with learning disabilities are entitled to the same aspirations and life chances as other people including the opportunity to work.

This cross-Government strategy sets out an ambitious goal to increase radically the number of people with learning disabilities in employment by 2025. The Government want as many of these jobs to be at least 16 hours per week. We aspire to close the gap between the employment rate of adults with moderate and severe learning disabilities and that of the disabled population as whole, currently estimated at 48 per cent.

The strategy includes action to raise expectations throughout the system that all people with learning disabilities can and should have the chance to work: from birth and early years through education, among health and social care staff, local authorities, employment agencies, employers, and people with learning disabilities themselves and their families. The strategy is supported by a detailed delivery plan.

The strategy and delivery plan have been placed in the Library and copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office.

Justice

Sentencing Guidelines Council Annual Report

I have today laid before Parliament the annual report of the Sentencing Guidelines Council. The Sentencing Guidelines Council has published its annual report, jointly with the Sentencing Advisory Panel, giving details of the excellent work it has achieved during the past year and outlining its ongoing work plans in 2009.

Northern Ireland

Consultative Group on the Past

I have today published a consultation paper on the recommendations of the Consultative Group on the Past. Dealing with the legacy of the events of the last forty years remains one of the greatest challenges still facing Northern Ireland. The Consultative Group on the Past was established in 2007 and asked to make recommendations about steps that might be taken to support Northern Ireland society in building a shared future that is not overshadowed by the events of the past.

When the report was published, one recommendation—that £12,000 recognition payments should be made to the relatives of all those who died as a result of the troubles—dominated all discussion of the report, and overshadowed all the other 30 recommendations.

I have already confirmed that the Government do not propose to take this recommendation forward. However, I am concerned that there has not yet been a thorough debate about the other recommendations in the report. That is why the consultation paper I am publishing today invites everyone to study all of the recommendations carefully and share with the Government their views on each of them.

In particular, I am calling on the political leaders in Northern Ireland to engage fully in a study of the proposals. The way forward cannot be imposed on Northern Ireland; it must be based on emerging and wide-ranging consensus. Achieving that consensus will not be easy but I believe that if the recommendations are studied carefully there will be those that will have widespread support.

The consultation period will run until 2 October 2009. Whatever the outcome of the consultation may be the Government will continue to support Northern Ireland on the path to reconciliation.

I have arranged for copies of the consultation paper to be placed in the Libraries of the both Houses of Parliament.