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Written Statements

Volume 523: debated on Monday 7 February 2011

Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 7 February 2011

Treasury

Barlow Clowes International

The Barlow Clowes group of companies collapsed in 1988, following the misappropriation of investors’ funds, which had been routed through approximately 50 related companies and entities in 16 jurisdictions. In the same year the Le Quesne report was published on regulatory functions in this matter. In 1989, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration published the report “The Barlow Clowes Affair”, which criticised the Department of Trade and Industry for maladministration in the handling of Barlow Clowes.

The Government disputed the main findings in the report but made a decision to make substantial ex gratia payments to Barlow Clowes investors. This was based on an exceptional combination of circumstances and was not to be regarded a precedent. At the same time the Government gave a clear assurance to Parliament to try and recover the cost of the ex gratia payments. The Government subsequently paid £153 million in ex gratia payments to 14,250 investors who suffered a loss as a result of the collapse of the Barlow Clowes group.

Since 1988, successive Governments have followed a policy of vigorously pursuing all claims in relation to the Barlow Clowes companies which showed any prospect of cost-effective recovery, in order to reduce the cost to the taxpayer of the ex gratia payments scheme.

The court-appointed receivers and liquidators to the Barlow Clowes companies have now concluded the last outstanding litigation in this case and will take no further action.

On 9 December 2010 the Supreme Court of Gibraltar granted the release of the receivers and liquidators of the various offshore portfolios previously promoted by Barlow Clowes International Limited, with effect from 6 January 2011. This brings to an end the Barlow Clowes affair.

As at 19 January 2011, from the recovery of assets and proceeds of legal action, the Government have recovered £120 million and £36 million was recovered and paid to investors. In total the investors, including the Government under their assigned rights, have been repaid £156.5 million, net of all costs.

Communities and Local Government

Local Government Finance

Further to my statement on Monday 31 January on the local government finance settlement, I am announcing that I will be making a technical change to the provisional formula grant allocations for 2012-13 increasing the overall total for formula grant by £11.3 million.

I have today placed in the Library of the House revised tables which reflect this change. Copies are available from the Vote Office and should be referred to in place of those issued on Monday 31 January which related to the 2012-13 settlement. All local authorities have been notified directly today of this change.

Energy and Climate Change

Plutonium Stocks

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) will publish on 7 February a consultation on the long-term management of UK-owned separated civil plutonium.

Currently the UK’s plutonium is stored in facilities designed to meet high standards of safety and security, however there is a need to consider how it should be managed in the long term. This consultation sets out for public scrutiny Government’s preliminary view on the long-term management of the UK’s plutonium. In particular the consultation covers the security and proliferation sensitivities associated with continued storage of plutonium, and also how we can best manage it in the interests of future generations.

Copies of the consultation have been placed in Libraries of both Houses or can be obtained from the DECC website.

http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/consultations/open/open.aspx

Feed-in Tariffs

I am today announcing the start of the first review of the feed-in tariffs (FITs) scheme for small-scale low-carbon electricity generation.

Decentralised renewables are vital to green growth and the FITs scheme has proved highly successful at stimulating growth, driving innovation, creating jobs and cutting carbon.

Since the scheme began last year more than 21,000 installations have registered to date. The vast majority of these are domestic installations, including solar panels, wind turbines and micro-hydro installations. The scheme is working well. The take-up of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels under FITs has been a success with 20,000 installations now registered. However there is room for improvement. I am concerned about the impact of super-size solar installations. I am also disappointed at the lack of farm-based anaerobic digestion plants currently accessing FITs.

In light of the economic and fiscal situation, inherited by the coalition, it is imperative that we take a more responsible and efficient approach to public subsidy, including where this subsidy is funded through energy bills. Specifically, the spending review committed to improving the efficiency of FITs and finding £40 million of savings, around 10%, in 2014-15.

Since the spending review, I have become increasingly concerned about the prospect of large-scale solar PV projects under FITs, which was not fully anticipated in the original scheme and could, if left unchecked, take a disproportionate amount of available funding or even break the cap on total funding. Several large solar installations have already received planning permission. Industry projections indicate there could be many more in the planning system. In light of this uncertainty, and the risk that such schemes could push FITs uptake off trajectory and may make the spending review savings difficult, I have decided to end the potential for damaging speculation and bring forward the review of the scheme to look at ways of correcting these early teething problems.

I recognise that industry needs a long-term plan for investment in which it can have full confidence. Today I am announcing a comprehensive evidence-based review of the FITS scheme and, to provide further certainty to the renewables industry, I can confirm that we also hope to publish next month measures to support renewable heat within the envelope agreed at spending review.

The FITs review will:

Assess all aspects of the scheme including tariff levels, administration and eligibility of technologies;

Be completed by the end of the year, with tariffs remaining unchanged until April 2012 (unless the review reveals a need for greater urgency);

Fast-track consideration of large-scale solar projects (over 50kW) with a view to making any resulting changes to tariffs as soon as practical, subject to consultation and parliamentary scrutiny as required by the Energy Act 2008.

Alongside the fast-track review of large-scale solar PV, we will also undertake a short study into the take-up of FITs for farm-based anaerobic digestion plants. Only two such projects have been accredited so far and by this point at least six were expected. We are looking again at the tariff rates inherited from the previous Administration to see if they are enough to make farm-based anaerobic digestion worthwhile.

Broad terms of reference for the review are available from www.decc.gov.uk/FITS and we are seeking views on specific issues to be considered. The Government will not act retrospectively and any changes to generation tariffs implemented as a result of the review will only affect new entrants into the FITs scheme. Installations which are already accredited for FITs at the time will not be affected.

Home Department

Antisocial Behaviour

Today I am launching, “More effective responses to anti-social behaviour”, which sets out the key findings of the Home Office’s review of the current tools and powers to deal with antisocial behaviour, as well as proposals to simplify and improve them.

Reducing the everyday crime and disorder that is described as antisocial behaviour—from vandalism and graffiti to drug dealing and harassment—is a high priority for the public, and for the Government. It is corrosive, blights communities and neighbourhoods and has a huge impact on the quality of life of millions of people. The unprecedented response by the public to the launch of street-level crime information earlier this month illustrates just how concerned they are about the issue.

Our aim is to ensure that where a community or victim is suffering antisocial behaviour—particularly the sort of targeted, persistent harassment apparent in a number of high-profile recent cases—the police and other local agencies take the problem seriously, take the necessary steps to stop it permanently, and protect vulnerable victims.

Our reforms to local crime and policing will take us some way towards meeting that objective. The introduction of elected police and crime commissioners, street-level crime information and regular neighbourhood beat meetings will make police forces more accountable for the way they deal with the issues that matter to local people. Helen Newlove is highlighting ways the public can get involved in making their communities safer. And we announced earlier in January that eight police forces are, with local partners, trialling a new approach to handling calls from the public that will ensure repeat and vulnerable victims of antisocial behaviour get a better service.

However, the police and other professionals also need an effective toolkit to deal with antisocial behaviour; one that is quick, practical, easy to use and provides a real deterrent to perpetrators.

Our review of the current tools and powers found that there are too many of them, with practitioners tending to focus on the measures they are most familiar with. And the bureaucracy and cost associated with some of the court orders (especially the antisocial behaviour order) may encourage some practitioners to use informal or voluntary tools to deal with serious incidents instead. At the same time, the growing number of people who breach their ASBO suggests the potentially serious consequences are still not deterring a persistent minority from continued antisocial behaviour. Finally, the tools that were designed to help perpetrators deal with the underlying causes of their antisocial behaviour are rarely used.

In response we propose a radical streamlining. Instead of providing a specific tool to deal with every problem, we aim to introduce a handful of faster, more flexible and more effective tools that allow practitioners to protect victims and communities and get to the root of the problem. Specifically, we propose to:

repeal the ASBO and other court orders for antisocial individuals, and replace them with two new orders that bring together restrictions on future behaviour and support to address underlying problems—a criminal behaviour order that can be attached to a criminal conviction, and a crime prevention injunction that can quickly stop antisocial behaviour before it escalates;

ensure there are powerful incentives on perpetrators to stop behaving antisocially—for example, by making breach of the new orders grounds for eviction from social housing;

bring together many of the existing tools for dealing with place-specific antisocial behaviour, from persistent litter or noisy neighbours, to street drinking and crack houses, into a community protection order;

bring together existing police dispersal powers into a single police power to direct people away from an area for antisocial behaviour;

make the informal and out-of-court tools for dealing with antisocial behaviour more rehabilitative and restorative; and

introduce a community trigger that gives victims and communities the right to require agencies to deal with persistent antisocial behaviour.

Copies of the consultation document will be placed in the House Library. The consultation, which runs until 3 May, is open to everyone to have their say and details can be found on the Home Office website at www.homeoffice.gov.uk/asb-consultation.

Prime Minister

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi

On 20 July 2010 I asked the Cabinet Secretary to conduct a review of Government papers relating to the release of the Lockerbie bomber. The purpose of this review was to ensure that all paperwork that could be published was published in order to address as fully as possible the continued concerns that were being expressed over this release, including from victims’ families.

The Cabinet Secretary has completed that review. I have placed his report and the further papers that are being released in the Libraries of both Houses.

The review assessed all material across Government. The Cabinet Secretary was assisted in this task by the former Information Commissioner and current Chairman of the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council, Richard Thomas. He has provided independent validation of this process and confirms the report and the documents now being published are consistent with all the materials he has reviewed and provide a fair and accurate account of events.

Under the convention covering papers of a previous administration, the Cabinet Secretary consulted former Ministers and the former Prime Minister about publication of additional papers.

All decisions on the declassification and publication of papers belonging to the previous Administration were taken by the Cabinet Secretary. He is clear that any information not published does not alter or contradict his report in any way.