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Written Statements

Volume 512: debated on Tuesday 29 June 2010

Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 29 June 2010


Child Trust Fund Regulations

The Government have today laid draft regulations before both Houses, which would reduce Government contributions into child trust funds from August 2010.

The Government announced on 24 May 2010 that they intended to reduce and then stop Government contributions to child trust funds, as part of achieving £6.2 billion of savings from Government spending in 2010-11.

These regulations would reduce Government contributions into child trust funds at birth, and stop Government contributions at age seven, due from August 2010. They would also stop disability payments into child trust funds due from 6 April 2011, but the funding allocated to make disability payments in future years will be redirected to provide additional respite breaks.

The Government will separately introduce a Bill to stop all Government contributions to child trust funds at birth due from January 2011.

Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (EU-US Agreement)

Following the conclusion of negotiations between the EU and the US, the Council yesterday signed an agreement with the United States that will allow financial messaging data stored in EU territory to be shared with the United States Treasury Department for its terrorist finance tracking programme (TFTP). The Government have opted in to the signing of this agreement.

The TFTP has brought significant security benefits to the EU and to the UK. Leads it has generated have provided valuable contributions to a number of investigations, including: the Bali bombing in 2002, the Van Gogh terrorist-related murder in the Netherlands in 2004, the plan to attack New York’s John F. Kennedy airport in 2007, an Islamic Jihad Union plot to attack Germany, the attacks in Mumbai in 2008 and the Jakarta hotel attacks in 2009. This agreement will further increase its effectiveness by imposing a binding requirement on the US Treasury to search the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) data on request from EU member states that comply with the terms of the agreement. It also contains strict yet proportionate data protection provisions.

The Government believe that parliamentary scrutiny of European business is extremely important and regret that, on this occasion, it has not been possible to complete parliamentary scrutiny of this important decision through the appropriate mechanism, as the timetable for the adoption of the agreement was rapid and the parliamentary scrutiny committees in the House of Commons have not yet formed. However, if the UK had not opted in, it could have put the success of the whole agreement in jeopardy.

Treasury Ministers have, of course, provided a full explanatory memorandum on the document to both Houses, and will be taking this issue forward with the scrutiny committees as soon as possible.

Finance Bill 2010

The Finance Bill will be published on 1 July.

Explanatory notes on the Bill will be available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office and placed in the Libraries of both Houses on that day. Copies of the explanatory notes will be available on the Treasury’s website.

Business, Innovation and Skills

Local Enterprise Partnerships

I, together with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, would like to inform the House that today we have jointly written to local authorities and business seeking outline proposals for local enterprise partnerships.

In the coalition’s programme for government we set out that we will support the creation of local enterprise partnerships—joint local authority-business bodies brought forward by local authorities themselves to promote local economic development—to replace regional development agencies (RDAs). This letter is the first step in realising this commitment.

The rationale behind these proposals is to create a more effective economic development structure to drive growth and maintain recovery. The structures we put in place should ensure that the right conditions for growth exist throughout the country.

A copy of the letter has been placed in the House Library.

Communities and Local Government

Planning Reform

Infrastructure is vital to the health and well-being of our nation. It is the backbone of our economy and its proper maintenance and renewal is critical for growth. We need to generate power and deliver it to our homes and businesses. We need ports to import and export goods and modern transport infrastructure to sustain a dynamic and entrepreneurial economy and to improve our quality of life. Without new infrastructure networks we risk the economic recovery of the nation.

Because decisions on new major infrastructure are so important and affect so many people we will be making a number of changes to the way in which policy is established, applications are handled and decisions taken. We will include the necessary measures within primary legislation to be brought forward in the current session of Parliament.

Abolition of the Infrastructure Planning Commission

The Government want a planning system for major infrastructure which is rapid, predictable and accountable. But we do not believe it is right that decisions on major infrastructure applications be taken by an unelected quango. They should be made by Ministers. We will therefore be abolishing the unelected Infrastructure Planning Commission and reintroducing democratic accountability in line with the coalition agreement:

“We will abolish the unelected Infrastructure Planning Commission and replace it with an efficient and democratically accountable system that provides a fast-track process for major infrastructure projects.”

Our intention is therefore to establish a Major Infrastructure Planning Unit as part of the Planning Inspectorate—an existing agency of Communities and Local Government—which will retain the strengths of the streamlined processes and the experience of the Planning Inspectorate. The Government will put these changes into effect as soon as possible. In the interim, we have asked the Infrastructure Planning Commission and the Planning Inspectorate to consider now how they can work together and identify efficiency savings. Further transitional arrangements are set out below.

National Policy Statements

We are committed to openness and transparency and it follows that planning decisions should be taken within a clear policy framework, and within clear time limits, making these decisions as predictable as possible. The Government will therefore be pressing ahead with the development of national policy statements and will issue a more detailed statement on them later in the summer.

The Government also want to ensure that national policy statements, and the decisions that will be based upon them, are as robust as possible, thus minimising the risk of successful judicial review, particularly by those wishing to abuse the system. We believe therefore that the decision-making framework for major infrastructure should have the strongest possible democratic legitimacy. That is why we will be ensuring that national policy statements are ratified by Parliament. National policy statements are critically important documents and they should be subject to public consultation with appropriate local and community engagement, and both scrutinised and ratified by Parliament before designation.

Transitional arrangements

Until new legislation is in place the Infrastructure Planning Commission will continue in its present role until it is abolished. During this interim period, should an application reach decision-stage and where the relevant national policy statement has been designated, the Infrastructure Planning Commission will decide the application. If an application reaches decision stage and the relevant national policy statement has not been designated, the Infrastructure Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the Secretary of State, who will take the decision.

For those applications under active consideration by the Infrastructure Planning Commission when it is abolished, transitional provisions will enable the examination of such applications to continue without interruption, through a seamless transfer to the new Major Infrastructure Planning Unit. There is no question of applications having to restart the process and we intend that the statutory timetable for decision taking will be no longer than the current regime.

The Government want to have national policy statements in place as rapidly as possible. In particular, we intend to complete the process for making the energy (including nuclear) national policy statements, which are part-way through the scrutiny process, and will bring forward revised final texts and ask Parliament to ratify them. We are still considering how best to take forward the remaining national policy statements under development, and will be publishing a more detailed implementation plan —including transitional arrangements and a revised timetable—later in the summer.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Arm's-length Bodies

The delivery of public services is at the heart of DEFRA’S role. From flood defences to animal health, from making payments to farmers to conserving biodiversity, DEFRA protects our natural environment, supports British food and farming industries and promotes the green economy.

But DEFRA has a very big network, with over 80 arm’s-length bodies. In my first month, I have made it my priority to examine the network critically. In line with the coalition Government’s commitments, I am applying the “three Government tests” to each of our bodies: Does it perform a technical function? Does it need to be politically impartial? Does it act independently to establish facts?

I am announcing today the first results of this work.

The Government are committed to improving the quality of life for those living and working in rural areas and intend to put the fair treatment of rural communities at the centre of Government. Ministers will lead rural policy from within my Department; I have decided accordingly to abolish the Commission for Rural Communities as an independent body.

The Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) is a DEFRA-funded non-departmental public body that was established under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act on 1 October 2006.

The Government believe policy advice should be carried out by Departments, not arm’s-length bodies. DEFRA will, therefore, reinforce its capacity to undertake rural work within the Department: a strengthened Rural Communities Policy Unit will work across Government to ensure that the interests of rural communities are fully reflected in policies and programmes.

In taking this action, I pay tribute to the commitment and quality of work undertaken by the Commission for Rural Communities, its staff, commissioners and its chairman, the Rev. Dr Stuart Burgess CBE, over the past four years. My Department will continue to work closely with the CRC during the transition to the new arrangements so that we build on its achievements.

The Animal Health Agency and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, are the two principal DEFRA executive agencies which work to combat animal diseases. I intend to merge these two agencies. This will allow us to bring together services, expertise and scientific capability on animal health. It will improve our resilience in delivering important services, including our animal disease emergency response capability and science requirements for animal health. In resource-constrained times, the merger will enable the agencies to create more efficient ways of working, reduce the cost and bureaucracy needed to manage the interfaces between these agencies, DEFRA and the devolved Administrations, and their customers.

The merger of the executive agencies will go ahead shortly, with as little disruption to staff and customers as possible.

A single chief executive will be appointed for the new agency this summer, and will be tasked with working out how to achieve the full integration of the agencies, including structures and ways of working, by the autumn.

In the meantime, both agencies will continue to be led by their chief executives and senior teams. In implementing this change to our arm’s-length bodies, the Department will work closely with the Responsibility and Cost Sharing Advisory Group, as well as devolved Administrations and other stakeholders.

Following the principle that Government should do only those things which only Government can do, we are examining how parts of the DEFRA network’s assets could be marketed or be run better through the voluntary sector, while protecting key DEFRA outcomes. Further announcements will follow, against the principles outlined above.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Programmes

The House is aware that I have been conducting a full review of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s spending on programmes. I refer to the reply given by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) to the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) on 7 June 2010, Official Report, Column 24W.

My aim was threefold: to ensure that FCO programmes deliver the priorities of the new Government; to ensure that they focus on those areas where the FCO itself can make the biggest difference and offer the best possible value for money; and to establish where the FCO can make cuts as part of its contribution to the reduction in public expenditure to which this Government are committed.

I have decided that we will:

Sustain planned spending this financial year on our counter-terrorism and Afghan counter-narcotics programmes, which contribute to some of the UK’s most important priorities, and will seek (resources permitting) to maintain FCO programme funding on these issues in future years.

Sustain planned spending this financial year on our bilateral programme funds, which enhance our relationships and influence with key countries around the world, and will seek (resources permitting) to increase this funding in future years.

Maintain a substantial programme of scholarships to bring future decision-takers and opinion-formers to the UK, while professionalising our current arrangements and targeting them on a smaller group of people. We will cut this year’s programme by £10 million and seek (resources permitting) to sustain a smaller and more strategic programme in future years. I believe this programme should also attract some further external funding, which will now be explored.

Sustain in future years (resources permitting) the FCO’s programme spending in support of the overseas territories, while making a cut of 10% (£630,000) in spending this financial year.

Sustain in future years (resources permitting) the FCO’s programme spending in support of counter-proliferation, while making a cut of 10% (£300,000) in spending this financial year.

Sustain in future years (resources permitting) the FCO’s programmes on human rights and democracy, reuniting Europe, and in support of the Westminster Foundation For Democracy, while making cuts to these programmes this financial year of 10% each (cuts of £560,000; £380,000; and £380,000 respectively).

Cut the FCO’s spending on its low-carbon high-growth programme by around £3 million this financial year and explore alternative sources of funding for the programme for future years. This does not mean the FCO is ending work on these issues: our diplomats will remain fully engaged in the UK’s international efforts to promote a low-carbon high-growth economy.

Cut the FCO’s programme spending on drugs and crime by £l million this financial year, end FCO funding in future years, and explore alternative sources of funding for this programme. This does not mean the FCO is ending work on these issues: our diplomats will remain fully engaged in the UK’s international efforts to fight drugs and crime which threaten our shores.

Cut our public diplomacy programmes by £1.6 million this financial year, focusing on strategic communications to key overseas audiences, while seeking (resources permitting) to sustain this programme in future years.

Make some adjustments to FCO programme spending on international institutions, cutting £250,000 this financial year, while seeking (resources permitting) to sustain essential support to those institutions in future years.

These decisions will deliver over £18 million of savings this financial year out of total FCO programme spend of some £140 million. The money saved will help sustain the UK’s front-line diplomatic work and our global network of posts, and contribute to the FCO’s £55 million in-year cuts.

This is only a small part of the work I am leading to ensure that the FCO delivers the best possible service to the UK taxpayer at the lowest possible cost, and contributes to the Government’s goal of reducing the budget deficit. Where there is scope for further cuts, efficiencies and reforms to deliver better for Britain, we will make them.

Home Department

Police Reform

I am today setting out some further details of the Government’s approach to police reform. Policing governance has become distorted and over- centralised in recent years and the Government are committed to ensuring that accountability and transparency are firmly at the heart of policing.

The first step for reform must be the return of proper operational responsibility to chief constables and their teams and that for this to work effectively there needs to be a redesign of the current performance landscape. The police service needs more freedom from central control—fewer centrally driven targets and less intervention and interference from Government. That is why I am announcing that we are abolishing the centrally imposed target on police forces to improve public confidence and we will scrap the policing pledge. Police forces need to be accountable instead to their communities.

To achieve greater accountability, the public need better information about their police and about local crime. This is why we will make sure that crime data are published at a level that allows the public to see what is happening on their streets, enabling the public to hold the police and other local agencies to account for how they are dealing with problems in their area. We will also require police forces to hold regular “beat meetings” to provide residents with the opportunity to put forward their concerns and hold the police to account.

In the future, the establishment of a directly elected individual at force level, setting the force budget, agreeing the local strategic plan, playing a role in wider questions of community safety and appointing—and if necessary removing—the local chief constable, will strengthen local accountability for policing. We will publish further details on our reform of policing later in the summer, which will assist our discussions with the public and our partners, and inform the Government’s preparations for the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill in the autumn.


Vehicle and Operator Services Agency

The Department for Transport has today issued a consultation document on proposals to empower examiners from VOSA with powers to stop commercial vehicles for inspection throughout Great Britain. At present their powers are restricted to England and Wales.

The new powers will help them to ensure that commercial vehicles and their drivers comply with road traffic law. Similar minor additions will be made to Northern Ireland legislation where no comparable powers already exist in relation to the stopping powers for the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) staff.

I have placed copies of the document in the Libraries of both Houses.

Work and Pensions

The Work Programme

Today the Government begin the first stage of their reform to deliver a 21st century welfare system.

The coalition Government are committed to fighting poverty, supporting the most vulnerable and helping people break the cycle of benefit dependency that has blighted some communities.

We want to establish a system of employment support that treats people with the dignity they deserve.

As announced in the coalition agreement we will radically simplify the back-to- work system by ending the complexity of the previous decade and replacing current schemes with a new Work programme.

The Work programme will provide a coherent package of support for people out of work, regardless of the barriers they face or the benefits they claim.

The Government will look to investors from the private, public and voluntary sectors to provide this support.

This week we will be releasing an advert setting out the parameters of a commercial framework and encouraging private, public and voluntary sector organisations to bid to be part of it.

Once in the framework organisations will compete to supply employment support.

The framework arrangement means we will be able to contract for employment support in a faster, flexible and more efficient way than the current system allows.

It also means Government can be more responsive to economic conditions and local need, which will enable us to let larger, longer contracts, encouraging greater investment and creating the circumstances for a proper rate of return for investors and meaningful social return for the taxpayer.

The Work programme will also provide help for the thousands on incapacity benefits who are able to work.

There are 2.6 million people claiming incapacity benefits.

The Government are committed to providing unconditional support for very sick and disabled people within that group.

But there are people claiming incapacity benefits that can work, and want to work, with our help they will be able to.

In the autumn, starting in Burnley and Aberdeen, we will ask incapacity benefit claimants to attend a work capability assessment. The rest of the country will follow, with reviews taking place when the normal benefit review is due.

The work capability assessment is designed to measure whether someone is able to work. It also allows us to recognise those who need additional support and ensure they get unconditional help.

To this end, we will take forward recommendations to treat people waiting for or between courses of chemotherapy in the same way as those already receiving it.

We will also extend the criteria for people with severe disability due to mental health conditions, meaning fewer very sick people will be asked to attend an assessment.

We will also establish an independent review as required by the Welfare Reform Act 2007, a concession forced on the previous Government jointly by the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives.

The coalition amendment established an independent review, which Professor Malcolm Harrington has agreed to lead, to scrutinise the assessment process. This will ensure people are treated fairly and assessments are transparent. The report will be completed by the end of the year.

These reforms are not just about getting people who are able to work into a job.

These reforms are the first steps towards tackling one of the key drivers of poverty and breaking the intergenerational cycle of worklessness and disadvantage.

Today the coalition Government take a firm but fair hold of the welfare system. This approach will bring about transformational change in the benefits system, helping people leave benefits and work towards a better quality of life for themselves and their families.

We have produced a guide to the framework and copies are available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.