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House of Commons Hansard
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Written Statements
01 March 2010
Volume 506

Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 1 March 2010

Business, Innovation and Skills

Northwest Regional Development Agency Board

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I am pleased to announce that I have decided to appoint three new board members to the Northwest Regional Development Agency. These are: Clive Elphick and David Goldie, to fill the two vacant business positions, and Frank Hont to fill the trade union vacancy.

Regional development agencies are playing a crucial role in addressing short-term issues as well as maintaining a long-term vision to help build a resilient economy for the future. The appointees to the Northwest Regional Development Agency board bring a wealth of experience and knowledge which will be extremely valuable to the contribution that the board can make towards the region’s economic recovery.

The appointments will commence on the 1 March 2010 and expire on 13 December 2012.

I have placed further details of these appointments, including biographies, in the Libraries of both Houses. I can confirm that the appointments were made in accordance with the Commissioner for Public Appointments code of practice.

Defence

Iraq Historic Allegations Team

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The armed forces served with distinction in Iraq in successive Telic operations. A number of allegations of abuse of Iraqi citizens by British service personnel have been brought to our attention by public interest lawyers, and more are anticipated. Many of them are sketchy and incomplete in their details; all relate to events that occurred a long time ago; we are no longer in Iraq in significant numbers; we do not have access to the claimants; and the seriousness of the behaviour alleged varies considerably. Investigating these allegations thus presents a huge challenge. Over 120,000 British service personnel have served in Iraq and the vast, vast majority have conducted themselves to the highest standards of behaviour, displaying integrity and selfless commitment. The uncertainty created by these allegations risks undermining unfairly their reputation and achievements, and we owe to them, and to the claimants, that these allegations are properly investigated.

We are determined, therefore, to ensure that such investigations are carried out thoroughly and expeditiously, so that—one way or another—the truth behind them is established. We firmly believe that open consideration of the issues will establish once and for all that the vast, vast bulk of British forces behaved professionally and responsibly in Iraq in the most challenging of circumstances.

The special investigation branch (SIB) of the Royal Military Police (RMP) has made progress in investigating the claims. To date, we have been treating these allegations on a case-by-case basis, but as more have been brought to our attention we have decided to devote even more resource to this work. Therefore we are looking to set up a dedicated team—the Iraq historic allegations team (IHAT)—to concentrate on these allegations so that they can be addressed as soon as possible.

Some argue that the Government should hold a public inquiry into these allegations: we disagree. We do not believe that a public inquiry would uncover criminal behaviour, but in the unlikely event that it did, a public inquiry would be unable to investigate it fully, even less impose punishments; that would be wrong. Instead we want the administrative court to be assured that, so far as possible, the facts will be investigated—and that this will be done transparently, fully, and in a reasonable timescale. The additional resource which the IHAT represents will help to bring matters to as swift a conclusion as is possible. With this assistance the independent service justice system, including the independent Director of Service Prosecutions (analogous to the DPP), will be able to take appropriate action against anyone who might not have behaved in accordance with the standards which MOD and the armed forces expect of them.

Setting up this new team is not an admission of fault; nothing could be further from the truth. Rather it is a demonstration of the continuing commitment of the MOD and the armed forces to transparency, and our respect for proper investigation. The time has come to deal with these unproven allegations once and for all. We have nothing to fear and everything to gain by this approach, because the truth is important for the vast, vast majority of British troops who behaved to the highest standards in Iraq.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Thames Tunnel Project

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The building of the Thames tunnel is vital for the future health of Londoners and for the environment and reputation of our capital city. I would like to inform the House that I am minded to direct applications for the tunnel to the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC), under Section 35 of the Planning Act 2008, because I believe that this is likely to be the most appropriate and effective way of reaching a decision on this unique and complex project.

Around 32 million cubic metres of untreated sewage and rainwater pollute the River Thames tideway every year from combined sewer overflows (CSOs) when storm water capacity is exceeded. A CSO is a feature of a combined system, introduced for the purpose of relieving the system of flows in excess of a selected rate, the excess flow being discharged to a local receiving water. A combined system is a system that takes in both rainwater and sewage. The discharges occur, on average, once a week and have a significant environmental impact on the river. These discharges can increase the likelihood of fish kills, create a higher health hazard for users of the river, and damage the aesthetic appeal of the Thames. Following the Thames tideway strategic study the Government identified the tunnel, which will intercept around 30 million cubic metres of the average annual discharge, as the best solution to protect the River Thames and to ensure that the capital has a sewerage system able to cope with the impact of population growth, more intense rainfall patterns and the reduction of green space available to soak up rainfall.

I believe the project to be of national significance and I am minded to direct it to the IPC for the following reasons:

it is essential to meet the ecological water quality objectives of a major river;

it is essential to reduce the risk to human health and prevent negative aesthetic impacts;

the unsatisfactory intermittent discharges cause reputational risk to the UK, detracting from the appeal of the river in the nation’s capital, which is otherwise a great asset to residents and visitors alike;

the unique scale and complexity of development will lead to an equally large and complex planning process and the Government have a clear interest in ensuring that the planning process goes as smoothly as possible, to ensure that there are not significant delays in addressing the problems caused by these sewage overflows, while ensuring the process is transparent and that all interested points of view are given a proper opportunity to be heard; and

these improvement works are needed to enable us to continue to meet our obligations under the urban waste water treatment directive. The urgency of the works is increased by the infraction proceedings being pursued against the UK by the European Commission for an alleged breach of the directive.

I believe that a Section 35 direction is likely to offer the most efficient route for a decision on development of the Thames tunnel. The announcement that I am minded to direct the project to the IPC will allow DEFRA to work with the directly affected London boroughs, Thames Water and other London stakeholders to discuss what a Section 35 direction is likely to involve. It will also allow us to include consideration of the Thames tunnel in the national policy statement for waste water.

The ongoing input of local planning authorities and local stakeholders will be vital. Under the Planning Act, scheme promoters have a duty to consult, and local authorities can make representations if they think promoters have not adequately consulted with local authorities on how they carry out their consultation with local communities. This can result in an application not being accepted as valid by the IPC. Local authorities will also be invited to submit local impact reports as part of the IPC’s consideration of applications.

A final decision on whether to direct the project to the IPC will not be made until after planning applications are submitted under the Town and Country Planning Act. I do not expect Thames Water to submit these applications before the autumn of 2011.

Further information on the Thames tunnel and DEFRA’S involvement is available on DEFRA’S website at:

http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/quality/water/water quality/sewage/overflows/index.htm

Health

Adult Autism Strategy

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I am announcing today the Government’s intent to publish “Rewarding and fulfilling lives: The strategy for adults with autism in England (2010)” on 3 March. A copy will be placed in the Library and copies will be available to hon. Members from the Vote Office.

The Autism Act 2009 was a unique and groundbreaking piece of legislation which signalled this Government’s commitment to improve the lives both of people with autism, and their families—and it has been reinforced by a range of action across Government to boost the profile of autism across public services.

The Autism Act committed the Government to publishing a strategy for adults with autism in England no later than 1 April 2010. We are indebted to the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Cheryl Gillan) and the all-party parliamentary group on autism for their work in bringing forward this legislation.

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability and although some people can live relatively independently, others will require a lifetime of specialist care. There are approximately 400,000 adults with autistic spectrum conditions (ASC) in England, around half of whom have a learning disability.

Service-engendered barriers to education, employment and the wider community bring economic disadvantage, social isolation, and mental and physical ill-health for adults with ASC. Therefore, addressing social exclusion for adults with autism is an issue which demands a collective response from services across the public sector.

The autism strategy will set out very clearly what we want for people with autism, and indeed what they should expect from public services and their communities. This new national strategy is an ambitious statement of intent focusing on five core elements:

increasing awareness and understanding of autism;

developing a clear, consistent pathway for diagnosis in every area, which is followed by the offer of a personalised needs assessment;

improving access for adults with autism to the services and support they need to live independently within the community;

helping adults with autism into work;

and enabling local partners to plan and develop appropriate services for adults with autism to meet identified needs and priorities.

Each of these areas has its own chapter in the strategy. They have been chosen to reflect the findings of the consultation, the themes emerging from the external reference group which supported the strategy’s development and the conclusions of important studies such as the NAO report.

Last year’s National Audit Office report (5 June 2009) “Supporting People with Autism through Adulthood”, reveals widespread evidence of services not meeting need and made a case that investment in services, particularly to support people with high-functioning autism (including Asperger’s syndrome) into employment, would deliver substantial savings to the public purse.

The strategy is a practical document. It starts with a long-term vision, but its core is in laying the foundations for long-term change. The overall approach is shaped by existing policy, in particular:

tackling social exclusion;

personalisation of public services as articulated in “Putting People First”;

the emphasis on local solutions to meet local needs;

and above all the emphasis on fair chances and opportunities for all.

These form the backdrop to the strategy and give it much of its underlying direction. More specifically, the strategy recognises the breadth of existing policy and programmes that should deliver better for adults with autism. The strategy focuses on how to make these existing policies work better for adults with autism.

The strategy is reinforced by a range of actions across Government:

we are funding a study giving better data on the prevalence of autism in the adult population;

we will publish, before the end of March, a first-year delivery plan to set out in more detail the timescale for implementation in 2010-2011;

we will launch in early summer consultation on statutory guidance for health and social care bodies to support delivery, and publish that guidance before the end of the year;

there will be a new national programme board to oversee delivery;

we will develop delivery plans for years two and three of the strategy to maintain momentum;

and we will review the strategy in 2013.

I am confident that the strategy marks a key milestone on the journey towards full inclusion and equality for people with autism. But real success will depend, ultimately, not only on transforming services, but on changing attitudes across our society. This is not going to happen overnight. We need to work together to achieve our common goal of full inclusion and equality for people with autism.

Home Department

“International Challenges, International Solutions: Managing the movement of people and goods”

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I am pleased to announce the joint publication by the UK Border Agency and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of “International Challenges, International Solutions: Managing the movement of people and goods”. The document represents the close partnership that exists between our Departments and our close co-operation on the international stage to secure our border and control migration for the benefit of our country.

Today’s publication updates on progress since our 2007 international strategy and sets out how the UK Border Agency and the FCO will strengthen existing partnerships and develop new ones to continue to deliver our objectives overseas. It also shows how the Government plan to do more to help developing countries to maximise the development benefits of migration and to mitigate the negative effects where they occur.

We have made impressive progress towards the goals we set out in 2007. Our overseas border controls have been strengthened through the increased use of risk and intelligence tools. The introduction of the points-based system has delivered a transparent system which allows us to adapt entry criteria based on economic or labour market conditions in the UK. We have also worked closely with international partners to improve co-operation on the return of migrants who are not entitled to be in the UK.

While our priority is to pursue the interests of the UK, the impacts of migration on other countries cannot be ignored. We are determined to keep improving our migration policies so that we do more to facilitate overseas development. We are considering policies that aim to contribute towards this goal.

Today’s publication sets out proposals to use our overseas networks better to manage migration and to protect Britain’s borders. Copies will be made available in the Vote Office and the Library of the House.

Justice

Office of the Public Guardian

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The Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) supports the Public Guardian in discharging his statutory duties under the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

The following list sets out the key performance targets that have been set for the Office of the Public Guardian for the year 2010-11.

KPI 1: Lasting Power of Attorney/Enduring Power of Attorney

Register and return 90 per cent. of applications for registration of attorneyship within nine weeks of receipt.

Target time for the registration of applications is 90 per cent. in nine weeks. This takes into account the increased numbers of LPAs OPG expects to receive and develops the aim from 2009-10 of 80 per cent. registration in eight weeks of receipt; 90 per cent. in nine weeks is more challenging and provides a better service for a larger number of customers.

KPI 2: Supervision of Deputies

All deputyship cases require the allocation of a supervision regime based on risk assessment.

The time scale to notify new deputies within 20 working days remains the same as last year. However, we have increased the target percentage from 90 per cent. to 95 per cent.. This will improve service to more of our customers.

KPI 3: Supervision of Deputies—Case review

A full case review of all deputyship cases subject to supervision will be carried out at least every three years, and this year the target is to review a minimum of 40 per cent. of cases. A case review could be a combination of, review of annual report; carrying out a visit; and review of supervision level following short-term intervention.

Last year the target was to review 10,000 cases that require intermediate and light-touch supervision during 2009-10. The reviews in the coming year will be more specific to the individual issues within the case, and we see this as a key element to helping deputies understand and appreciate the PG supervisory function.

KPI 4: Investigations

Where concerns are raised about actions of an attorney or deputy we will assess risk in 95 per cent. within two working days. Upon receipt of an investigations case in the relevant team, it is allocated to a specific caseworker. We will conclude 75 per cent. of investigations within three months and 95 per cent. of investigations within six months.

The new element in this KPI is to conclude 95 per cent. of investigations within six months. This provides a challenge to ensure the large majority of cases are concluded within a reasonable timescale.

KPI 5: Finance

Based on the statutory instrument for fees approved by Parliament, we will aim to achieve 100 per cent. full cost recovery.

Full cost is defined as:

The total cost of carrying out the provision of services to the taxpayer, less social subsidy/fee remission; financial losses over and above a yearly notional premium; in-year bad debts write-off and exceptional items.

KPI 6: Customer Satisfaction

Achieve 70 per cent. customer satisfaction with OPG service delivery.

This is a new measurement to ensure the OPG maintains and improves the quality of service to its customers.

Copies of the Office of the Public Guardian business plan have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses. It is also available from the OPG website (www.publicguardian.gov.uk).