Written Ministerial Statements
Tuesday 12 July 2011
Alignment of Prosecutions (DEFRA and CPS)
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and I have agreed the forthcoming arrangements between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for the conduct of prosecutions.
Currently DEFRA prosecutions are conducted by an in-house prosecutions team that is part of DEFRA’s legal team. The forthcoming change is that the conduct of such prosecutions will be assigned by the Attorney-General, with the agreement of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to the Director of Public Prosecutions under section 3(2)(g) of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985, and DEFRA legal’s five prosecution posts will transfer to the CPS.
The transfer will take place on 1 September 2011.
DEFRA and the CPS have considered carefully the benefits of the changes and agree that the new structure will provide a better strategic fit for prosecutions. The new arrangement will provide greater resilience in the conduct of DEFRA prosecutions, and the team conducting those cases would have improved access to the range of specialist teams in the CPS that are not available in a small in-house team. The team would also have access to the CPS’s network of advocates serving courts locally.
The new arrangements provide for strong liaison, partnership and accountability between DEFRA and the CPS.
My right hon. Friend is also pleased to announce that with effect from 1 September 2011 the remainder of DEFRA’s legal team will transfer to the Treasury Solicitor’s Department. This transfer will provide greater resilience, flexibility and efficiency in the delivery of legal services to DEFRA.
National School of Government
The 2010-11 annual report and accounts for the National School of Government was laid before Parliament today. The report has been placed in the Library of the House for the reference of Members and copies will be made available in the Vote Office.
Energy and Climate Change
Crown Estate Leases for Offshore Renewables Projects
For some years, Crown Estate leases for offshore renewables projects, and agreements for lease, including leases and agreements for lease for the cables transporting the electricity to land, have contained a clause allowing the Crown Estate to determine the lease, in whole or in part, at my request, where this is necessary to enable an oil or gas project to proceed. The clause does not however make any reference to the provision of compensation to the lease holder, and this has become a matter of concern, particularly as regards the prospects of attracting finance for offshore renewables projects. Following discussions by my Department with Renewable UK and Oil and Gas UK, I would therefore like to clarify my approach on the question of my giving consent under the Petroleum Act 1998 for any oil and gas development (that is, for the drilling of any well, for the installation of production facilities, or for the construction of a pipeline), where it appears that the development can proceed only if the oil and gas clause in a renewables lease, or agreement for lease, is invoked.
First, as regards the granting of consent in general, I should note that there have been instances in which proposals for new oil and gas developments have been potentially in conflict with the development intentions of others who have existing rights in the same or in an adjacent area. It is clearly of great importance that oil and gas licensees, in planning their exploration work, and where relevant in working up proposals for producing a new field, should take full account of any potentially conflicting interests. Where it appears that the envisaged oil and gas development may in practice conflict in any degree with activities already permitted, the licensee should consult with the other rights holders and so far as possible seek an agreed way forward acceptable to both sides. Some aspects of these consultation processes are already covered by advice and guidance issued by my Department to petroleum licensees. But I have asked for advice on what further guidance on these matters, and on the procedures by which licensees have to apply for my consent under the Petroleum Act, would be appropriate in today’s circumstances. I note in this context that the Petroleum Act, as amended by the Energy Act 2004, provides that in making such a consenting decision, I may have regard, specifically, to activities for or in connection with the generation of electricity, or proposals to carry on such activities.
Secondly, in any case in which an oil and gas licensee seeks consent for a development, and it appears that the development can proceed only if the oil and gas clause in a renewables lease, or agreement for lease, is invoked, I would not be prepared to request that action by the Crown Estate, or to give consent to the proposed development, unless payment of appropriate compensation to the lease holder for the loss of value of his interests had first been assured by negotiation and commercial agreement between the two parties. In such circumstances, I would seek confirmation from the affected leaseholder that agreement had been reached on acceptable terms, before reaching any decision on consent under the Petroleum Act for the oil and gas development.
Exceptionally, where the licensee has exercised all reasonable endeavours to reach such a negotiated agreement, but has been unable to do so, I may be prepared to consider requesting determination of some part of the lease or agreement for lease if the appropriate compensation for loss of value has been assessed by an independent third party and the licensee commits to appropriate arrangements to secure the payment of that compensation. The prospective loss to the lease holder should be valued by the independent third party, on the general principle of equivalence as applied in circumstances of compulsory purchase, which aims to put the claimant in the same position, so far as financial compensation can do so, as if the lease or agreement for lease had not in fact been determined.
For clarity, I reiterate that in the absence of either a commercial agreement between the parties, or of the provision of independently assessed compensation for the renewables leaseholder, I would not be prepared to request the determination in whole or in part of any renewables lease or agreement for lease, or to grant consent to the proposed oil and gas development. The lease holder would remain free to take forward his project as previously envisaged.
My officials will discuss with the interested parties suitable practical arrangements to give effect to this policy, including a process for appointing a suitable person or body to undertake the independent third party valuation where that might be necessary. Suitable guidance will be developed in consultation with leaseholders or prospective leaseholders and the oil and gas industry.
The Crown Estate are considering how this policy can be appropriately reflected in the suite of documentation for individual leases, and how the documentation of existing leases can be updated.
I should add that I do not see these issues as impacting on the granting of oil and gas licences, as these do not convey any consent for development. As at present, licence applicants or prospective applicants will have access to-up-to date information on consented developments, and on areas leased or zoned for other types of development, so that their acceptance of any licence can be based on an up-to-date understanding of potentially conflicting development intentions in the area in question.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Agriculture and Fisheries Council
The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) who is responsible for natural environment and fisheries represented the United Kingdom at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Luxembourg on 28 June. Richard Lochhead MSP also attended. This was the final Agriculture and Fisheries Council under the Hungarian presidency.
Commissioner Damanaki spoke about the Commission’s proposed framework for setting catch levels for 2012 and beyond via the total allowable catch (TAC) and quota regulation (TQR). Against a backdrop of the poor state of many EU fish stocks and the continued issue of overfishing, the Commission announced its aim to ensure that all fish stocks should be fished within the threshold of maximum sustainable yield (MSY) by 2015 and where there was insufficient scientific advice or data the precautionary approach should be adopted and a cut of 25% should be applied to the TAC. Commissioner Damanaki also explained that she intended to split the TQR into two parts this year in order to improve the process: “internal” stocks to be decided at the November Council and “external” (those subject to international negotiations, principally joint EU-Norway stocks) in December.
There was near universal opposition to the idea of the 25% cut for data-poor stocks with 19 of the 22 fishing member states (and Austria) explicitly opposing this. There was concern that this approach would merely increase levels of discarded fish in many cases and that a more targeted approach, using all available data or advice, even incomplete, would be preferable.
There was widespread concern among all fishing member states about aspects of the MSY principle. Nearly all noted that 2015 was the target for all fisheries and that this should be achieved on a gradual basis. The UK, along with Ireland, Spain, Belgium and coastal state in the Baltic expressed concern about how individual species MSY targets could be identified correctly in a multi-species environment.
The UK, Spain, Denmark, France, Ireland, Belgium, Portugal and Austria also expressed concern about the idea of splitting the TQR decision-making across two Councils, creating administrative inefficiency.
In response Commissioner Damanaki emphasised the need to follow scientific advice and in the absence of such advice there had to be a precautionary approach. MSY had to be achieved by 2015 and this could be done on a gradual basis up to then, but could not be delayed. She was open to look at the November-December split to ensure that stocks related to the EU-Norway negotiations were not set in November but she wanted to stick to deciding things as early as possible.
There were three points raised under any other business. The first item saw Ireland express serious concerns about unrestricted mackerel fishing by Iceland and the Faeroe Islands. Setting autonomous quotas significantly higher than scientific advice threatened to damage one of the EU’s most valuable, and previously sustainable stocks. Ireland pressed for EU action in the form an immediate ban on all mackerel landings and all imports of mackerel products. The UK supported these concerns and emphasised the possibility of high-level international action to find a political solution. France, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, Spain and Portugal also supported Ireland. The Commission agreed that action was needed but noted that it could only act within the appropriate legal framework. Commissioner Damanaki said she was talking to Trade Commissioner De Gucht about finding a more effective legal instrument and she hoped to be able to propose something in the autumn.
The second item was a report back from the Netherlands on the high-level conference on common fisheries policy reform that took place in Noordwijk in March 2011. The final fisheries item was a declaration from Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania asking for appropriate levels of funding for fisheries as part of the new structural funding arrangements. In particular they emphasised the need for modernisation, research and innovation and small-scale fisheries to be sufficiently funded in the context of CFP reform. There was also a demand for a greater focus on aquaculture. Slovenia, Malta and Slovakia also broadly supported the declaration. Italy, France, Spain, Belgium, Portugal and Ireland drew attention to a declaration that they had recently sent to the Commission which was largely similar, but which also emphasised the need for the economic and social objectives of the CFP to be properly funded. The Commission said that the new funding instrument would prioritise sustainable fishing, research, aquaculture (inland and marine) and would be administratively simpler.
On agriculture, the main item concerned the Commission’s response to the E. coli crisis. Commissioner Dalli updated the Council on the public health aspects of the crisis. He also explained the actions taken to get Russia to lift its export ban on EU fruit and vegetables; an agreement had been reached, although some implementation action was still needed, and exports were resuming. Member states welcomed the agreement with Russia, and wanted to see its full and rapid implementation. All agreed on the need to review the operation of EU food safety alert systems and learn lessons from the outbreak. The UK stated that the protection of consumers must be the first priority, and noted that the EU alert systems had worked well in the recent French outbreak, allowing supply chains to be rapidly traced across several member states.
Commissioner Ciolos (Agriculture) explained the measures he had put in place to support affected growers, amounting to a budget of €210 million. Member states needed to provide the necessary verified data rapidly to ensure good audit standards, and decisions on how to apportion the money would be made at the Management Committee on 22 July. He argued that this reinforced the case as part of CAP reform for giving the Commission more scope to intervene in such crises. The Commission also stated it would find an extra €5 million to support promotional campaigns over the coming years. The main grower member states welcomed the Commission’s action, and the increased budget, while bemoaning the bureaucratic difficulty of securing the necessary information to support claims. Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Austria wanted more products adding the list of those eligible for compensation or the criteria loosened to allow compensation for having sold at a low price but there were no loud calls for a bigger budget. The UK stressed the importance of restoring consumer confidence to allow producers to get their returns from the market not subsidies. The Commission noted the need to act quickly and simply meant an EU-wide approach, although member states could add national mechanisms (state aids) on top if they so wished. He stressed that proper audit was essential to ensure appropriate financial management.
There were three agricultural items under any other business. The first related to the food for deprived persons programme. Italy called for rapid action to ensure the food for deprived persons programme could continue at its planned level of funding (€500 million a year) following the recent European Court of Justice ruling that would heavily restrict it. Belgium, Slovenia, Cyprus, France, Hungary and Poland agreed. The Commission stated that the European Court of Justice ruling would limit funds to what was available from intervention sales, about €130 million for 2012 and nothing in 2013, but there was a Commission proposal on the table to resolve the difficulties and allow the full spending to proceed, should the Council agree it. Germany, the Netherlands and UK all said they did not agree—this was a social programme, for national Governments, not something for the CAP. Poland indicated they would bring the issue to the Council for decision under their presidency.
The two final items under any other business were reports back from the French on the recent G20 meeting of agriculture ministers, and from Hungary two conferences they had held on the future of livestock sector and on organic farming. There was no further discussion.
Health Act 2006 (Post-legislative Assessment)
I have today laid before Parliament “Post-Legislative Assessment of the Health Act 2006”, Cm 8115, the Government’s memorandum to the Health Select Committee, which provides a preliminary assessment of the Health Act 2006. The main purposes of the Act are to ensure protection from the health dangers of second-hand tobacco smoke; to provide a statutory footing to reduce levels of health care associated infection; and to provide for safer management of controlled drugs, and improvements to pharmacy and ophthalmic services, as well changes to the administration of the NHS.
Copies of the memorandum are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.
UK Threat Level
Yesterday, 11 July, the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) changed the UK threat level from international terrorism from severe to substantial. This means that a terrorist attack is a strong possibility.
The change in the threat level to substantial does not mean the overall threat has gone away, there remains a real and serious threat against the United Kingdom and I would ask the public to remain vigilant.
The decision to change the threat level is taken by JTAC independently of Ministers and is based on the very latest intelligence, considering factors such as capability, intent and time scale. “Substantial” continues to indicate a high-level of threat; and that an attack might well occur without further warning. The threat level is kept under constant review.
Contest (UK Strategy for Countering Terrorism)
I have today published a revised version of Contest: The United Kingdom’s strategy for countering terrorism. Copies will be available in the Vote Office.
International counter-terrorism work has made very significant progress over the past 10 years. Al-Qaeda is weaker than at any time since 9/11. It has not conducted a successful attack here since 2005. It has played no role in recent political change in north Africa and the middle east. Its ideology has been widely discredited and it has failed in all its objectives. Continued international pressure can further reduce its capability, and the UK must work with other countries to seize those opportunities in the coming months and years.
But al-Qaeda continues to be a significant threat and other terrorist groups, some affiliated to al-Qaeda—notably in Yemen and Somalia—have emerged over the past two years to be a substantial threat in their own right. The threat from Northern Ireland related terrorism has also increased. The scale of the threat and of activity to contain it is reflected in the number of arrests and convictions here for terrorist related offences. These figures remain high. The Government will continue to give the highest importance to their counter-terrorism work.
The aim of our counter-terrorist strategy is to reduce the risk to the UK and UK interests so that people can go about their lives freely and with confidence.
The scope of the strategy has been broadened to cover all forms of terrorism and has been changed to reflect the Government’s security and counter-terrorism policies.
Under our “Pursue” work, the purpose of which is to stop terrorist attacks, we have already reviewed the most controversial counter-terrorism and security powers which have been in place here and made significant changes to them. They are now more effective and more proportionate. We will work hard to maintain intelligence coverage of terrorist-related activity here and give the intelligence and security services and the police the capabilities they need. We will continue to try to prosecute or deport more of those who have been engaged in terrorist-related activity; and we will support foreign Governments in building their capacity to deal with terrorism overseas.
We have revised work on “Prevent”—which aims to stop people being drawn into terrorist activity—and have already published a comprehensive assessment or work to date and a statement of our future strategy. Like Contest as a whole “Prevent” has increased in scope to deal with all forms of terrorism and also to more clearly tackle extremism which is conducive to terrorist activity and can draw people towards it. We will make a clearer distinction between our “Prevent” work and our programmes to support integration. Our focus will be on challenging ideology, supporting vulnerable people, and working with key sectors where radicalisation may occur.
In our “Protect” work, we will continue to respond to recent threats to aviation security. We will further strengthen our borders—notably through the formation of the National Crime Agency—and the protection of our critical infrastructure. For “Prepare”—our contingency planning—we have learnt lessons from previous terrorist attacks. We will continue to build our capabilities to respond to a Mumbai style attack; to address the highest impact terrorist risks, including an attack which might make use of unconventional weapons; and to resolve issues of interoperability between the emergency services.
The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games will be the biggest sporting event in our history. Terrorism poses the greatest security threat to the games. Ensuring the security of the Olympics will be an absolute priority over the coming year.
The threat endures but al-Qaeda is significantly weaker than it has been for 10 years. There are opportunities for us and our allies to seize the opportunities we have now to further enhance our security and reduce the threats we face. This strategy is intended to enable us to do so.
Public Bodies Reform
Today I have laid before Parliament a public consultation document; “Consultation on reforms proposed in the Public Bodies Bill—Reforming the public bodies of the Ministry of Justice”.
The consultation details our reform proposals in relation to those Ministry of Justice bodies included in the Public Bodies Bill, which is currently before this House. While clause 10 of the Bill requires consultation of certain specified groups, I have decided that this should be a public consultation to ensure details of my Department’s proposals are available to as many interested parties as possible.
Reducing the number and costs of public bodies is a key Government commitment and the proposals in this consultation build on previous announcements relating to public bodies reform. All Ministry of Justice public bodies have been reviewed over the last year. We have considered whether particular bodies and their associated functions are still needed and assessed our public bodies against agreed criteria for reform. These criteria were intended to increase Government accountability; eliminate duplication of activity and discontinue activities that no longer need to take place.
I am confident that the proposed reforms set out in the consultation document will address these aims and enable the Ministry of Justice to make a significant contribution to the Government’s reform of public bodies.
I will carefully consider the consultation responses before bringing forward any order in relation to any of the Ministry of Justice bodies in the Bill.
Immigration Advisory Service
It is with regret that the trustees of the Immigration Advisory Service (IAS) decided that the organisation had to enter into administration on Friday 8 July 2011.
This is clearly a sad situation for all involved. The Legal Services Commission (LSC) has worked closely with IAS over the last few years and IAS has received substantial support to help them manage their cash flow and run its business within the LSC’s contracted payment system. When LSC took over responsibility in 2004 for funding IAS, the LSC agreed to more favourable transitional arrangements with IAS than were agreed with other not-for-profit organisations.
However, a recent contract compliance audit by the Legal Services Commission, has provisionally identified that a material proportion (amounting to several millions of pounds) of the £15 million paid annually to IAS is over or misclaimed work. This is often where the work carried out does not have appropriate documentation to prove its validity, most commonly where there is a lack of evidence confirming clients’ eligibility. As well as this, work was conducted which was not within the scope of public funding. The LSC, as a responsible public body, is rightly seeking to recoup this money. It is of course crucial that the Government achieve value for public money and the LSC must be able to demonstrate to the Comptroller and Auditor General that it is in control of the funds it administers and takes appropriate action where the terms of its contracts are not complied with.
There have been extensive efforts on the parts of both IAS and the LSC to negotiate a solution to the current financial position, but the scale of the debt, coupled with projected income levels, has led the trustees to conclude that placing the organisation in administration is a necessary step. The current position reflects the company’s past financial management and claims irregularities and is not a direct consequence of the proposed legal aid reforms, not least because these reforms have yet to be implemented.
The primary concern for the Government and the LSC is now to ensure clients of IAS continue to get the help they need. The LSC expects that the administration of IAS will allow a managed close down process of IAS’s activities and an orderly transfer of clients to new providers. Provisional arrangements have been made to ensure that any emergency cases are dealt with speedily, meanwhile the LSC is identifying alternative advice provision in the areas affected and arrangements for case transfer will follow as soon as possible.
There is a significant long-term interest in this work from other providers, both not for profit organisations and private solicitor firms. The LSC ran a tender round for new immigration and asylum contracts in October last year and there was an increase in the number of offices that applied to do the work and bids for more than double the amount of cases that were available. All immigration and asylum providers are expected to meet the same high-quality standards which include compulsory accreditation schemes for all advisers and supervisors, and as such I believe the interests of the clients being transferred will be protected.
Work and Pensions
Child Maintenance Reform
I have today published the Government’s response to “Strengthening families, promoting parental responsibility: the future of child maintenance” (Cm 7990).
We need to challenge and support families to think about their responsibilities for their children when adult relationships break down, to ensure the welfare of their children comes first. It is unacceptable that more than 50% of children living in separated families have no effective child maintenance arrangement in place. I believe we need to move away from a system where the CSA is seen as the only option for the majority, with many people trapped inside an adversarial statutory system because they have been unable to access sufficient support to help them make alternative arrangements.
In our response, we reaffirm our commitment to establishing a better network of support for parents so they can deal with maintenance issues in the broader context of the emotional and practical issues they face at separation, and to make it easier for them to make family-based arrangements which are in the best interests of their children. We will continue working with experts in the voluntary and community sector, as well as with the Department for Education and Ministry of Justice, to translate this vision into reality.
Sir David Henshaw’s 2006 report into child maintenance recommended charging for use of the statutory service as an essential part of changing the behaviour of parents and encouraging them to work collaboratively to take responsibility for the welfare of their children. We remain committed to implementing the previous Government’s legislation which took forward Henshaw’s recommendation and provided for charging. Within this we will continue to work with interested and expert groups to ensure that particularly vulnerable parents are supported appropriately, and we remain committed to delivering an improved statutory scheme that is accessible. We will consult on specific rates in due course, prior to regulations being laid in Parliament.
As part of our commitment to ensuring that the needs of vulnerable people are protected, victims of domestic violence will be fast-tracked to the statutory service with no application fee. Families on out of work benefits will retain 100% of their welfare benefits entitlement and a heavily discounted application fee to what remains a heavily state subsidised statutory maintenance scheme.
Again, we will consult further on specific details in due course.
We are determined to have more children benefiting from effective financial support and more collaborative parenting post separation. I believe that the approach we are setting out today will bring about real change that will make a real difference to children’s lives.
Copies of the consultation response are available in the Vote Office, and will be available shortly at:
Up-rating Private Occupational Pensions (Move to CPI)
Today, the Government will publish an updated impact assessment for the move to using the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) as the basis for the statutory minimum up-rating of occupational pensions.
This edition of the impact assessment takes account of research into private pension schemes rules and the likely reaction of employers to the decision to use the CPI published on 16 June 2011, and the latest Office of Budget Responsibility estimates of RPI and CPI inflation rates. It also includes the impact of proposed amendments to the Pensions Bill, which were tabled on the 7 July.
A copy of the updated impact assessment will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses, and will be available on the Department’s website at: http://www.dwp.gov.uk/consultations/2010/cpi-private-pens-consultation.shtml