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Written Statements

Volume 525: debated on Monday 14 March 2011

Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 14 March 2011

Energy and Climate Change

Independent Fuel Poverty Review

The coalition Government announced their intention at the spending review to launch an independent review of the fuel poverty target and definition. I have asked Professor John Hills of the London School of Economics to lead this review. The review is expected to publish interim findings in autumn 2011 and to deliver a final report to Government by January 2012.

The terms of reference for the review are:

1. To consider fuel poverty from first principles: to determine the nature of the issues at its core, including the extent to which fuel poverty is distinct from poverty more generally, and the detriment it causes.

2. As appropriate, and subject to the findings under (1), to develop possible formulations for a future definition and any associated form of target, which would best contribute to:

addressing the underlying causes identified;

helping Government focus their resources (which are set out in the spending review for the period to 2014-15) and policies on those who need most support;

measuring the cost-effectiveness of different interventions in contributing to progress towards any target; and

developing practical solutions, particularly around identification and targeting of households and measuring progress resulting from Government action.

The review’s website is available at www.decc.gov.uk/hillsfuelpovertyreview where any updates on progress will be posted.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Linda Norgrove

In my statement of 2 December 2010, Official Report, columns 987-994, I informed the House of the outcome of the US/UK military investigation into the death of the British aid worker, Linda Norgrove, who was taken hostage by insurgents in Afghanistan on 26 September 2010 and who died during a US-led rescue operation on the night of 8 October 2010. I reminded the House that Her Majesty’s coroner for Wiltshire and Swindon was legally responsible for determining the cause of death and that my statement could not in any way prejudice the course of his inquiries.

HM coroner completed his inquest on 15 February 2011 and has recorded a narrative verdict. The full redacted US/UK military investigation report was published on 9 March 2011.

I am grateful to the US/UK investigation team for the thoroughness of their investigation. It is our long-standing policy not to comment on the tactics of British or our allies’ special forces but I am confident that the appropriate tactical lessons have been shared and learnt. I pay tribute to the courage of the US forces who risked their own lives to try and rescue Linda Norgrove.

The inquest has confirmed the tragic circumstances of Linda Norgrove’s death. Ms Norgrove’s parents have shown great dignity and strength throughout their ordeal. They have set up the Linda Norgrove Foundation to continue their daughter’s desire to help bring prosperity and security to the Afghan people as their country is rebuilt. Linda Norgrove’s work will continue to be an inspiration.

Northern Ireland

Rosemary Nelson Inquiry

In anticipation of the publication of the report of the Rosemary Nelson inquiry, I have today asked a team of officials to commence the checking of the inquiry’s report in relation to human rights and national security matters, as outlined below. I intend to adopt the same approach as was used for the checking of the report of the Bloody Sunday, Billy Wright and Robert Hamill inquiry reports.

As I informed the House in my written statement of 16 December 2010, Official Report, column 131WS, the Nelson inquiry intends to complete its report by the end of April 2011. I am responsible for publication of the inquiry’s report, once it is delivered to me. I am advised that I have a duty, as a public authority under the Human Rights Act, to act in a way that is compatible with the European convention on human rights (ECHR). To fulfil this duty, I need to take steps to satisfy myself that publication of the report will not breach article 2 of the convention by putting the lives or safety of individuals at risk. I am advised that these obligations must be met by me personally, in my capacity as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Although the inquiry is also a public authority under the Human Rights Act, I am not entitled to rely on the inquiry to satisfy my article 2 obligations and I have a duty to assess this myself. I also have a duty to satisfy myself that publication will not put national security at risk, for example by disclosing details of sources of protected information.

I have established a small team to assist me in carrying out this necessary exercise. The team will comprise the Northern Ireland Office’s principal legal adviser, two officials from the Ministry of Defence, one official from the Police Service of Northern Ireland and one official and one legal adviser from the Security Service, who are familiar with the sensitive material provided to the inquiry panel. This team will be granted access to the report under strict terms of confidentiality and for the sole purpose of carrying out the necessary checks, and they will report directly to me alone. Neither I nor any official beyond the members of the checking team will have access to the report until 24 hours before it is published. Sir Michael Morland has agreed that this team can carry out the checks on the inquiry’s premises while the report remains in the custody of the inquiry. I understand that the report will be made available for checking today.

I want to publish the report in its entirety. Should any concerns about the safety of any individual arise, my first course of action would be to consider whether these can be addressed through alternative means. Were I to reach the conclusion, on advice, that a redaction to the text might be necessary, I would consult Sir Michael Morland. In the very unlikely event that any redaction was deemed necessary, my intention would be to make this clear on the face of the report.

The report must be published first for this House, and I intend to publish the report as soon as possible once the report and the checking process has been completed. However, I acknowledge the importance of this inquiry’s findings in the lives of a number of individuals. As with the publication of the Bloody Sunday and Billy Wright inquiry reports, I intend to consider giving advance sight to those who were designated as represented parties by the inquiry. I intend to discuss this with the Speaker of the House in due course.

Transport

Coastguard Service (Consultation)

My statement of 16 December 2010, Official Report, columns 133-34WS, announced the commencement of a consultation on proposals for the modernisation of the coastguard service, concluding on 24 March. These proposals cover both the reorganisation of the rescue co-ordination work undertaken by regular coastguard officers and specifically include an investment of resources to strengthen the support given to the volunteers in the coastguard rescue service who serve their local communities by providing an effective, knowledgeable and responsive local rescue service.

An extensive programme of public engagement meetings organised by the coastguard will be completed by 16 March 2011. I have been very grateful for the contributions of all of those who have attended these meetings. However, to give all interested parties more time to further develop their thoughts and submissions, including alternative proposals, I have decided to extend the period for submission of written responses by a further six weeks to 5 May 2011.

The Transport Select Committee has also announced its intention to hold an inquiry into the modernisation proposals. Provided the Transport Select Committee is able to produce its report in a timely manner, I would expect to allow a further short period for consultation following publication of that report.

Work and Pensions

Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 7 March 2011 in Brussels. I represented the United Kingdom.

The first debate focused on Europe 2020 and the European semester. The presidency asked member states for views on social and employment measures that needed tackling urgently. The Commission reiterated the need for national targets in meeting the Europe 2020 headline targets and highlighted that not all member states had set a national employment or a poverty target. Some member states’ responses included setting a high level of ambition in the employment and social inclusion targets, while others argued for more realism. For the UK, I stressed that actions to remove obstacles to employment should be at the heart of policies to promote growth and that addressing the EU’s relatively low labour market participation required a mix of measures, including improvements to welfare policies, education systems and regulatory policies. The EU should focus on growth and reducing regulatory burdens, particularly for small and medium-sized companies. I explained the UK approach, prioritising welfare reforms aimed at helping people break the cycle of benefit dependency and ensuring that work was a better option than welfare. I also stressed that the UK was investing heavily in targeted interventions and in improving skills.

In the second debate, the Commission presented results of the Green Paper consultation on adequate, sustainable and safe European pension systems. Most member states agreed with the need for reforms, but many pointed to the need for subsidiarity, recalling the very different national situations and conditions across the European Union. There was broad support for continued use of the open method of co-ordination. For the UK, I explained the recent pension reforms in the UK and also argued against unnecessary changes such as the revised solvency rules which could cause employers to close their occupational pension schemes. This was an issue on which all UK stakeholders were in agreement.

The Council adopted a number of Council conclusions. These covered the joint employment report in the context of the annual growth survey 2011, the European platform against poverty and social exclusion, the further development of an electronic exchange system facilitating the administrative co-operation in the framework of the posting of workers directive, and the European pact for gender equality (2011- 2020). The UK abstained on the joint employment report as it had not cleared parliamentary scrutiny.

The Council also took note of the annual report on progress towards equality between women and men 2010. The report acknowledges areas where progress has been made, both at national and European level.

Under any other business, the presidency reported on the informal meeting of the Ministers for Employment, and provided an update on two legislative areas, “seasonal workers” and “intra-corporate transferees”. The Employment Committee and Social Protection Committee chairs provided information on their work programmes for 2011, and there was a presentation from the French delegation on plans for their G20 Labour and Employment Ministers’ meeting, which will take place in September 2011.