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Written Statements

Volume 515: debated on Wednesday 15 September 2010

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 15 September 2010

Treasury

Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grant Bill

The Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grant Bill has today been introduced into the House of Commons.

This Bill would end eligibility for child trust funds and abolish the health in pregnancy grant from January 2011, and repeal the Saving Gateway Accounts Act 2009.

The Government announced on 24 May that they would reduce and then stop Government payments to child trust funds. The Child Trust Funds (Amendment No. 3) Regulations, made on 22 July, have already reduced Government payments. The Government also announced at the Budget on 22 June that the health in pregnancy grant would be abolished, and that the introduction of the saving gateway would be cancelled.

All of these measures will contribute to the reduction of the UK’s budget deficit. The changes being made to child trust funds, including through this Bill; the abolition of the health in pregnancy grant; and the cancellation of the saving gateway’s introduction are expected to save £370 million in 2010-11, and around £800 million in future years.

The Government have also published today an initial assessment of the equality impacts of the measures included in the Bill, and an initial estimate of the impacts of the changes being made to child trust funds upon account providers. Copies of these documents have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and are available from the Vote Office.

Culture, Media and Sport

Horserace Totalisator Board

The Government announced in the Budget on 22 June that they would over the next 12 months resolve the future of the Tote in a way that secures value for the taxpayer and which recognises the support the Tote currently provides to the racing industry.

In line with that objective, the Government are now preparing to launch an open market process in the late autumn in which they will invite proposals from interested parties. This process will be open to all organisations who have an interest in the Tote, and the Government expect to be in a position to update the House early in the new year.

The Government will continue to liaise closely with the board of the Tote and with racing interests as this process unfolds.

Defence

Ex-Service Personnel (Prison Population)

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt) and I wish to make the following joint statement.

On 6 January 2010, the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Justice—under the previous Administration—announced in a written ministerial statement, Official Report, columns 6-7WS, the findings of an initial study by the Defence Analytical Services and Advice (DASA) which estimated that 3% of the prison population in England and Wales are ex-regular service personnel. DASA has since revised their estimate to 3.5% to take into account the incompleteness of their service leavers database which did not include reliable data for those who had left the services prior to 1979 (Navy), 1973 (Army) and 1969 (RAF).

DASA has also determined the demographic and service variables of veterans in prison. They are predominantly male (99.6%), British nationals (96.7%)), ex-Army (77%) other rank (92%), with 50% being aged 45 and over. Only 1% are recorded as officers and 7% had no rank status attached to their records. DASA calculated that for veterans in prison the time between discharge from the armed forces and the start of their current sentence ranged from 0 to 41 years. 41% began their current sentence 10 years after leaving the services, with only 6% having started their current sentence within a year of being discharged. However, DASA estimates that for males aged 18 to 54, the proportion of the ex-regular service personnel in prison was 30% less than the proportion of the general population in the same age group.

The DASA follow-on report on the demographic and service variables of veterans in prison is being placed in the Library of the House and published in full on their website:

http://www.dasa.mod.uk/index.php?pub =VETERANS_IN_PRISON

DASA’s report provides a detailed statistical analysis of the demographic variables of veterans in prison. It does not explore why veterans come into contact with the criminal justice system. The Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Defence will consider what further work might usefully be commissioned to understand the reasons behind this.

Independent Medical Expert Group (Armed Forces Compensation Scheme)

As a result of Lord Boyce’s review of the armed forces compensation scheme, published in February 2010, an independent medical expert group was established. Professor Sir Anthony Newman Taylor CBE FMedSci has led this group, which comprises senior licensed consultants drawn from relevant specialties, representatives of ex-service organisations and serving members of the armed forces.

The group’s role is to advise on the appropriate levels of compensation for a number of specific injuries, illnesses and diseases highlighted in the AFCS review as being areas requiring further detailed work. The group is providing advice on a range of complex issues, including:

Genital injury

Paired injuries

Hearing loss and acoustic trauma

Non-freezing cold injury

Mental health

Brain injury

Spinal cord injury

There are several important topics that the group has begun that require more detailed analysis, including on mental health issues. As a result of this, I am going to extend the group in its current form to March 2012. I will review the group’s status in 12 months’ time. Therefore I am renaming the group the “Independent Medical Expert Group”.

Ofsted Report (Armed Forces Initial Training)

Today Ofsted publishes its report on welfare and duty of care in armed forces initial training, copies of which I have placed in the Library of the House. Over the course of a year, Ofsted inspected 10 initial training establishments, meeting with recruits, trainees and staff to assess the effectiveness of the care and welfare arrangements.

Training to join the front line in the armed forces is recognised as a challenge for recruits and trainees and the staff who look after them, which is why providing a safe and supportive environment is essential if the training is to be fully effective. I am pleased that Ofsted regards most recruits and trainees as well motivated, thoughtful and confident individuals who feel safe and well supported.

Ofsted reports that where problems exist, they are not related to the quality of welfare and duty of care support, but to structure, management systems and staffing issues and it is these aspects of provision that are judged as being “inadequate” in two locations. These concerns are being addressed and followed up through the chain of command.

The impact of operations on the training environment is noted by Ofsted in the report and this, combined with the current resource climate, means that we must strive to continue our efforts to improve ensuring that the impact of change is evaluated and the effect on recruits and trainees remains positive.

Energy and Climate Change

Informal Energy Council Meeting

I represented the United Kingdom at the EU Informal Energy Council in Brussels on 6 to 7 September 2010.

The Council began with a discussion of energy consumer policy, focusing on the issue of vulnerable consumers. There was broad agreement on the need for greater transparency of information and on the importance of technology, including the use of smart meters, to allow consumers to make better choices. This discussion will form the basis of a report benchmarking national policies for discussion at the December Energy Council.

The Council continued with a debate on energy infrastructure, including the development of a low-carbon grid. Member states referred to issues of planning and the length of time needed to get certain permissions as particular obstacles to infrastructure development. The debate moved on to financing, with widespread agreement that the majority of the energy infrastructure investment which would be needed across Europe in coming years would need to come from the private sector but that there was a role for the EU in facilitating that investment and providing finance in exceptional circumstances. I noted the importance of regional projects, such as the North sea offshore grid. The Commission confirmed that it intended to produce a communication on infrastructure in November, focusing on barriers to investment and key priorities for the next two decades.

The Energy Commissioner then presented the Commission’s initial position on the EU’s response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. He emphasised the importance of minimising the risks of a similar incident in the EU by ensuring the highest standards of safety across Europe. He noted that the EU already had a framework of safety regulations in place and great experience of drilling, particularly in the North sea.

The Council ended with a working lunch where Ministers discussed energy efficiency.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Bovine Tuberculosis

Bovine TB is having a devastating effect on many farm businesses and families. The situation is steadily getting worse—the number of animals slaughtered each year is unacceptable and more farms are affected as the disease spreads across the country. The area of England affected by bovine TB has grown from isolated pockets in the late 1980s to cover large areas of the West and South West of England. 6.4% of herds in England were under bovine TB restriction at the end of 2009. The figure was 14.3% in the South West. In 2009, over 25,000 cattle were slaughtered due to TB in England.

The cost to Government of controlling bovine TB in England was over £63 million in 2009-10 (excluding scientific research). These costs are rising year by year and there is a strong case for early effective action to turn this around. Furthermore this has been raised as a concern by others across Europe and we are under increasing pressure from the European Commission to strengthen our controls.

Eradicating bovine TB is our long-term goal, but it is clear that the approach to date has failed. We need to take additional measures urgently to stop the disease spreading and to start to reverse the rising trend. The farming industry, veterinary profession and Government need to work in partnership to achieve this.

There is no single solution to tackling bovine TB—we need to use every tool in the toolbox. Cattle measures will remain the foundation of our bovine TB control programme but we will not succeed in eliminating the disease in cattle unless we also tackle the disease in badgers. The science is clear, there is no doubt that badgers are a reservoir of the disease and transmit bovine TB to cattle. No other country in the world with a similar reservoir in wildlife has eradicated TB from cattle without stringent wildlife control measures.

That is why the coalition Government have committed, as part of a package of measures, to develop affordable options for a carefully managed and science-led policy of badger control in areas with high and persistent levels of bovine TB in cattle. I am today launching a consultation on the Government’s proposed approach to badger control in England.

Badger culling has the potential to reduce bovine TB in cattle by rapidly reducing the overall number of infected badgers, thus reducing the rate of transmission of the disease to cattle. The main body of evidence on the impact badger culling has on incidence of bovine TB in cattle is the randomised badger culling trial (RBCT) which took place between 1998 and 2007. The results of this major Government-funded trial demonstrate that badger culling, done on a sufficient scale, in a widespread, co-ordinated and efficient way, and over a sustained period of time, would reduce the incidence of bovine TB in cattle in high incidence areas. Analysis of the results covering the whole period from the beginning of culling to July 2010 show that the beneficial effects of culling persist over this time and that the initial detrimental effect seen at the edge of the culled area had disappeared by 12 to 18 months after culling stopped.

The proposal on which I am launching the consultation today is to issue licences under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 to enable farmers and landowners to cull badgers, at their own expense. Under existing arrangements farmers and landowners are already able to apply for licences to vaccinate badgers. Under the Government’s new proposal, they will be able to use vaccination either on its own or in combination with culling. The Government’s proposal will empower farmers to take control of reducing the risks of transmission from the wildlife reservoir at the local level.

Licences would be subject to strict criteria to ensure that the badger control measures are carried out effectively, humanely, and with high regard to animal welfare. This will include a requirement that any culling must take place over a minimum area of 150km2 so we can be confident it will have a net beneficial effect. This means that we would expect to receive licence applications from groups of famers and landowners rather than individuals. Applicants will also need to demonstrate that they have considered taking further steps to minimise the potential detrimental effect at the edge of a culling area. Culling licences will only permit culling by cage-trapping and shooting, and by shooting free-running badgers, carried out by trained, competent operators with the appropriate licences. We have ruled out gassing and snaring on the basis that we do not currently have sufficient evidence to demonstrate that they are humane and effective methods of culling.

I have looked carefully at the potential for using badger vaccination. Based on veterinary advice and the available scientific evidence my assessment is that vaccination will not be as effective as culling in quickly lowering the weight of infection in the badger population. Vaccination does not guarantee that all badgers are fully protected from infection and it would take some time to develop immunity within a local population. In addition, the fact that the first injectable badger vaccine was only licensed in March 2010 means that there is only very limited experience of using vaccination in the field and no hard evidence on the contribution badger vaccination would make to reducing the disease in cattle. However, vaccination is still likely to reduce disease risk and have greater disease control benefits than taking no action to tackle bovine TB in badgers. In addition, when used in combination with culling, vaccination could help to mitigate the perturbation effects of culling.

The Government’s highest priority are to reduce the deficit and it is vital that any new policy is affordable. This is why we expect the farming industry to bear the direct costs of badger control. Government will fund the licensing operation and monitor the impacts of the policy.

I do not approach these issues lightly. No one wants to kill badgers, but the scientific evidence and veterinary advice clearly suggests that this is the quickest and most effective way to bring down the weight of infection in the badger population and in turn reduce the rate of transmission of bovine TB to cattle. We also do not want to see culling for longer than is necessary and we intend to review how the policy is working after four years.

I have met with the Badger trust and separately with other interested stakeholders to explain the evidence and rationale behind the proposal. All have been offered the opportunity to discuss the consultation in further detail with DEFRA.

The consultation is available on DEFRA’s website (www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/tb-control-measures/index.htm) from today and will close on 8 December 2010. Copies are also available in the Libraries of both Houses. A decision on this policy will be made early in 2011, taking account of views provided during this consultation, and the available scientific and economic evidence.

The consultation document also highlights that we are planning a number of changes to existing cattle measures to ensure that that they are better targeted on the basis of disease risk. Most existing cattle measures will remain firmly in place; in some cases we will be looking to tighten controls where we know there is a higher disease risk; and in some cases we will be looking to reduce burdens on farmers but only where we are confident that this will not increase disease risk.

I am today publishing the report of a review of pre-movement testing which is available on the DEFRA website (www.defra.gov.uk/foodfarm/farmanimal/diseases/ atoz/tb/premovement/index.htm). This has concluded that the current policy has been successful in reducing bovine TB spread, provided a significant benefit for the taxpayer and a net benefit for the farming industry. The pre-movement testing policy will therefore remain in place, though we plan to look again at the current exemptions to see whether they are still necessary.

We will be making some minor changes to TB testing with immediate effect. These include reducing the testing of new and reformed herds, stopping the testing of young calves, rationalising post-breakdown testing in low-risk herds where bovine TB is not confirmed and rationalising the testing of herds neighbouring a confirmed TB breakdown. These changes will reduce costs to the taxpayer and the burden on famers without increasing disease risk, and will ensure we are not gold-plating EU legal requirements.

Over the next few months I also intend to make changes to TB terminology, strengthen controls on high risk unconfirmed breakdowns, reduce the number of tracing tests and extend the use of gamma interferon testing to all confirmed breakdown herds in the two yearly testing areas. And I will ensure better support for TB restricted cattle farmers by enhancing their options for selling surplus stock. Further details of these changes will be announced in due course.

The coalition Government are committed to dealing with this terrible disease and reducing its burden on farmers and the taxpayer as quickly as possible. A decision on our approach will be taken following the consultation on badger control being launched today. I intend to publish a comprehensive and balanced bovine TB eradication programme early in 2011.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Britain's Values in a Networked World

I wish to make the House aware that I will deliver a speech entitled “Britain’s Values in a Networked World” at the Old Hall and Crypt, Lincoln’s Inn today. This is the third in a series of four major policy speeches which set out the Government’s active and activist approach to foreign policy.

In this speech I will address how this Government will pursue a foreign policy that remains true to our values while promoting Britain’s security and prosperity. As part of this approach, I will be making three specific announcements.

First, I am determined to strengthen the FCO’s institutional capability on human rights both at home and overseas, building on the work of previous Governments. Following the publication of the consolidated guidance to intelligence officers and service personnel, the FCO will be re-issuing its guidance to its own staff on the need to report any alleged incidents of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment that they encounter in the course of their work. I will make this guidance public.

Secondly, I have decided to convene an advisory group on human rights to include key NGOs, independent experts and others. It will meet regularly and have direct access to Ministers. This group will ensure that we will benefit from outside advice on the conduct of our policy.

Thirdly, as I explained to the Foreign Affairs Committee on 8 September the FCO will strengthen its human rights reporting and make it available to a wider audience. Going forward, we will report to Parliament and the public, both through a Command Paper and by making best use of the internet.

A copy of my speech will be placed in the Library of the House and published on the FCO website (www.fco.gov.uk) by 16 September.

Court of Justice (Appointment of Lithuanian Judge)

At a conference of representatives of Governments of member states on 29 September 2010 the appointment of a Lithuanian judge to the Court of Justice is to be considered.

The nomination is in respect of: Mr Egidijus Jarašiunas.

Having consulted with the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice and Attorney-General, the Foreign Secretary agrees to the appointment.

Sino-British Joint Declaration (Hong Kong)

The latest report on the implementation of the “Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong” was published today. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House. A copy of the report is also available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website (www.fco.gov.uk). The report covers the period from 1 January to 30 June 2010. I commend the report to the House.

Justice

Interpretation and Translation Services (Justice Sector)

The Government are proposing to make changes to the provision of interpretation and translation services across the justice sector. We need to reduce waste and cut costs but we shall do so in a way that safeguards quality.

Articles 5 and 6 of the European convention on human rights and fundamental freedoms (ECHR) give the right to interpretation for those who are arrested and who face criminal court proceedings. In addition, we expect the European Union to adopt a directive in the autumn intended to ensure that the rights enshrined in the ECHR are implemented consistently across all member states.

Currently, the non-binding National Agreement on Arrangements for the Use of Interpreters, Translators and Language Service Professionals in Investigations and Proceedings within the Criminal Justice System sets out how criminal justice organisations are expected to source interpreters and translators in England and Wales. The National Agreement gives the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) as the first source for foreign language interpreters and translators and the Council for the Advancement of Communication with Deaf People Directory (now called the National Register of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD)) for British Sign Language and other language services for deaf and deafblind people. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 codes of practice C and H also require that whenever possible the police should use interpreters from these registers when interviewing suspects.

Members of staff in justice organisations identify interpreters using the registers and then contact them directly. Once the assignment is complete, invoices are processed individually. This is an inefficient, labour-intensive process.

The Ministry of Justice is engaging with the market to explore how interpretation and translation can be delivered more efficiently. The exercise is a “competitive dialogue”, which allows us to explore with potential providers the best way for them to meet our requirements. Although we are not able to be certain what the result of this exercise will be, we are anticipating a “framework agreement” with a number of preferred suppliers. This will set out a template or “call-off” contract. Justice organisations will then easily be able to use the “call-off” contract to meet their specific requirements. The quality of interpretation will be ensured through the terms of the contracts.

At this stage, we expect most police forces, Her Majesty’s Courts Service, the Tribunal Service, the National Offender Management Service and the Crown Prosecution Service to use the framework. We expect the framework agreement to be signed in early 2011.

A move to contracts will eventually render the National Agreement redundant and we expect to withdraw it in due course. We aim however to retain elements of the agreement as good practice guidance and many of its fundamental principles will form the basis of the agreements with suppliers.

Potential suppliers were invited to lodge an expression of interest in a letter issued on 10 August. A notice was issued in the Official Journal of the European Union on 23 August. The procurement “pre-qualification questionnaire” was made available on 24 August. The deadline for return of the questionnaire was 13 September. The competitive dialogue process with short-listed tenderers will start in October.

The Government are clear that there is scope for greater efficiency in this area of their business and it is important that savings are made. But in taking this work forward it will ensure that the quality of interpretation and translation in police stations, in the courts and elsewhere is maintained.

International Development

DFID's Programme in Bangladesh

Today we are publishing by Command Paper the Government response to the former International Development Committee’s report on “DFID’s Programme in Bangladesh”. The report was published on 4 March 2010.

The report was positive about DFID’s programme in Bangladesh. It commends DFID’s work on governance, extreme poverty and the balance we are striking between support to service delivery and capacity building. The Minister of State for International Development visited Bangladesh 12 to 14 July 2010, reinforcing the UK’s commitment to helping Bangladesh reduce poverty and deal with the impacts of climate change.

Northern Ireland

Arrangements for Handling National Security

The Government have received and welcomed the second annual report of Lord Carlile of Berriew on the operation of arrangements for handling national security matters in Northern Ireland.

The report finds the now established national security arrangements free from major structural problems, more efficient than analogous arrangements elsewhere, and in a more acceptable human rights context than anywhere comparable.

Consistent with his terms of reference, the report was submitted to both the Home Secretary, and to me.

The Home Secretary and I welcome the content of this report which I am today bringing before Parliament. I have placed copies in the House Library.

Independent Monitoring Commission (24th Report)

I have received the 24th report of the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC). This report has been made under articles 4 and 7 of the International Agreement that established the Commission. It reports on the murder of Bobby Moffett in Belfast on 28 May 2010. I have considered the content of the report and I am today laying it before Parliament.

The IMC concludes that:

“The murder was committed by members of the UVF acting as such;

These members had sanction at central leadership level. The fact that there was no subsequent condemnation of the killing by the leadership means that the UVF has in effect adopted the consequences of the murder;

There were two main reasons for the murder and the way in which it was committed: to stop Mr Moffett’s perceived flouting of UVF authority, and to send a message to the organisation and the community that this authority was not to be challenged;

Senior leadership in the UVF could have prevented the murder had it determined to do so”.

In May 2007 the UVF issued a statement renouncing violence and committing to a process of transformation from a military to a civilian organisation. This was a major turning point for them. Last year they also took the step of decommissioning.

The IMC observes that

“the murder does not blind us to the progress the UVF has made hitherto or of itself mean that the process [of transformation] will be reversed. But it does call into question the reference in the May 2007 statement to becoming a civilian organisation and shows that when faced with what it saw as a challenge to its standing and authority, the organisation reverted to physical force”.

The IMC goes on to say that

“If this murder is to mark the end of the use of physical force it will require a more profound change of culture and attitude by the leadership and the organisation”.

The murder of Mr Moffett was brutal and shocking. The conclusions of the IMC in respect of the behaviour of the UVF leadership are a challenge to the UVF leadership to renew their determination to deliver fully on their collective commitment to transform their organisation.

Transport

Equality Act 2010

I have today published guidance notes about the sections of the Equality Act 2010 relating to taxis and private hire vehicles which are coming into force.

The Equality Act 2010 contains new provisions which will, when commenced, tighten the law by placing duties on taxi and PHV drivers to provide assistance to people in wheelchairs. Before these duties come into force, we are making provision for those drivers who themselves suffer from a condition which makes it difficult to provide assistance, to apply for an exemption from these duties. Drivers will be able to apply for these exemptions from October. I have today published guidance to local authorities and drivers to this effect so that they can prepare accordingly.

Also from October, the sections of the Equality Act 2010 which oblige taxi and PHV drivers and PHV operators to carry guide dogs will be commenced. This obligation is already prescribed in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, so in practice there will be no change for drivers. However, the guidance I have published today will reassure drivers and licensing authorities that any existing exemption notices which refer to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 will still be valid once the Equality Act sections are commenced.

The guidance notes have been published on the Department’s website and will be brought to the attention of all the taxi/licensing authorities and the principal taxi/PHV organisations.

Copies of the guidance notes have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.