Written Ministerial Statements
Tuesday 13 September 2011
Tax Policy Consultation and Draft Finance Bill 2012
The Government’s approach to tax policy making puts consultation on policy and scrutiny of legislation as the cornerstones.
Over the summer, HM Treasury and HM Revenue and Customs have been seeking the views of interested parties on the tax policies announced at Budget 2011. Responses to these consultations will be published on or by 6 December 2011.
As part of the next stage of consultation draft legislation for these measures, to be included in Finance Bill 2012, will also be published on that date. This will be supplemented by draft explanatory notes and tax impact and information notes. The draft clauses will be open to consultation until 10 February 2012.
Culture, Media and Sport
Olympic Delivery Authority (Ministerial Guarantee)
The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) has entered into an agreement for Qatari Diar Athletes Village UK Ltd (QDD) to purchase 1,439 homes and associated ground floor retail units in the Olympic village development, together with six adjacent future development plots having the potential for a further 2,000 new homes in the public realm, which benefits both the Olympic village and the development plots. As Minister for the Olympics and an authorised signatory for the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, I have signed a guarantee given in support of this agreement.
QDD is a wholly owned subsidiary of QDD Ltd, a joint venture between DV4 Ltd, a real estate investment fund advised by Delancey (a specialist real estate investment company with a property portfolio across the UK) and Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company (a real estate investor and developer owned wholly by the Qatar Investment Authority).
The agreement is between QDD and the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) for the sale of SVDP Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of the ODA which holds the ODA’s interest in the village (and associated development plots and public realm) on its behalf.
The ODA has provided various undertakings, indemnities and warranties under the terms of the agreement with QDD. In essence, these oblige the ODA to build and convert the village units from athletes’ use at games time to private housing and deliver wider Olympic park infrastructure. The ODA has no significant sources of funding other than the public sector funding package and is expected to have a limited life span that many of the obligations are expected to exceed. In such circumstances, and given that the obligations go beyond the lifetime of the 2012 games, I have agreed to a ministerial guarantee of the ODA’s obligations. Such a guarantee is provided for under the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006.
All of the ODA’s obligations to QDD are within the ODA’s existing scope and budget therefore no additional funding is required to meet these obligations. However if, due to unforeseen circumstances, additional funding is required there is access to ODA programme contingency, and if that was exhausted, to the public sector funding package contingency for the Olympic programme as a whole.
The obligations do not constitute additional contingent liabilities because the obligations covered by the guarantee can be funded within the overall public sector funding package for which a contingent liability was announced to Parliament in March 2007.
The coverage of this guarantee is very similar to that provided in 2009 in support of the agreements entered into by the ODA with Triathlon Homes LLP for the purchase of 1,379 affordable homes on the Olympic village development. Parliament was informed of the Triathlon guarantee by the then Minister for the Olympics the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell) on 22 June 2009, Official Report, columns 47-48WS).
At the point at which the ODA is wound up, any subsisting rights and obligations under the agreements with QDD will be managed and considered as part of the Government’s decision at the time on the allocation of the ODA’s remaining assets, rights and liabilities.
Service Voter Registration
I have today placed in the Library of the House a copy of the report of a survey on service voter registration levels in 2010 conducted by Defence Analytical Services and Advice in January 2011. As in previous years the survey was conducted to provide an estimate of the numbers of armed forces personnel who are currently registered to vote, and to assess the success of our information campaign.
I welcome the survey. It indicates that 75% of service personnel are registered to vote, up from 69% in 2009 and 60% in 2005. This represents the highest level of service registration since I first raised the issue back in 2005. Of those registered in 2010, the majority (77%) chose to register as ordinary rather than service voters. The level of voters registered as overseas voters has remained at 1%.
We recognise that there is still work to be done. Alongside the challenges presented by service mobility and the high proportion of young personnel in our armed forces, the results of the survey will help to inform how and where we should best concentrate our efforts in the future. We continue to work closely with our colleagues in the Cabinet Office and the Electoral Commission to further improve the quality and timeliness of information available to our service personnel and their families. It remains our firm commitment to improve arrangements for the service community to enable them to play a full part in the electoral process.
Energy and Climate Change
Oil Release (Gannet Field)
An oil release from a pipeline in Shell’s Gannet F development, totalling approximately 218 tonnes1 occurred during the period from 10 to 19 August 2011. The oil dispersed naturally well away from the shore and the UK-Norway median line and there has been no evidence of any significant environmental impact to date resulting from this release.
An oil sheen on the sea surface was observed by Shell personnel on Wednesday 10 August, and my Department was notified on the same day that a leak had occurred. A DECC inspector was in regular communication with Shell from that point. On the evening of August 11, DECC was notified that the release had stopped. However, Shell provided DECC with further aerial surveillance information late on the afternoon of Friday 12 and it became clear that the release was continuing and that there was potential for significant pollution. The Secretary of States representative for maritime salvage and intervention (SoSREP) was immediately notified and he mobilised to Shell’s headquarters on Saturday 13 August. A team from DECC and Marine Scotland was assembled at Shell’s offices to attend an operations meeting that afternoon, with the SoSREP formally establishing an operations control unit at Shell’s office at 9 am on Sunday 14 August.
The role of the SoSREP is to represent the Secretaries of State for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (in relation to offshore installations) and the Department for Transport (in relation to ships) to ensure the risk to safety, property and the UK environment arising from accidents involving ships, fixed or floating platforms or sub-sea infrastructure is eliminated or effectively reduced.
In the case of an offshore oil release, the SoSREP monitors the operator’s response to a pollution incident and, if he deems necessary, has powers to give directions and to take such other actions as may be required where there is or may be a risk of significant pollution. The SoSREP is empowered to make crucial and often time-critical decisions, without delay and without recourse to higher authority, where such decision are in the overriding public interest. The SoSREP has been in close contact with DECC and the Scottish Government Ministers throughout.
On 14 August, a survey by a remotely operated vehicle confirmed that the initial leak had been stopped, but a second, smaller, leak was continuing. The survey also discovered that the pipeline bundle, within which the oil flow-line was contained, had lifted from the seabed in a number of places. Action to halt the continuing small leak had to be deferred until the pipeline could be stabilised. With the approval of the SoSREP, Shell partially stabilised the pipeline by laying concrete mattresses on it, and the second leak was then halted on 19 August.
The operations control unit remains in place and the SoSREP is continuing to work with Shell as they develop plans to remove the remaining inventory in the pipeline (estimated at 660 tonnes of oil).
Although this incident is in no way comparable with major pollution incidents such as the gulf of Mexico—in the case of Macondo it is estimated that 4,900,000 barrels of oil were released to sea, the Gannet release equates to 1,300 barrels—this is nevertheless the largest oil release on the UKCS in over a decade.
My Department and the Health and Safety Executive have commenced investigations into the cause of the incident, which are likely to take some months. A full report will be sent to the procurator fiscal to consider whether a prosecution is appropriate.
1It is difficult and takes time to get an accurate assessment of the size of a release and this is subject to ongoing revision.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Imports of Animal Products
As required under the Animal Health Act 1981 (as amended by the Animal Health Act 2002) the Government will publish today a review of controls on the import of animal products for the financial year 2010-11.
Following my first year as Minister of State responsible for agriculture and food, I welcome the opportunity again to report on the actions made by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and other Government Departments and agencies during the past year aimed at reducing the risk of disease entering the country via imports of animal products.
The Government remain committed to strong action to prevent illegal imports of animal products from outside the European Union (EU) that may bring the risk of diseases that can threaten animal and public health, for example foot and mouth disease (FMD) and highly pathogenic avian influenza type H5N1 respectively. There is also the substantial risk to the economy as we know from the outbreak of FMD in 2001 which is estimated to have cost £3 billion relating to agriculture and the food chain.
Following the spending review, DEFRA with the UK Border Agency (UKBA), the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA), albeit at low or no cost, have continued to undertake a joined-up approach on the overall communications strategy and seek opportunities to help raise travellers’ awareness of the rules on personal imports of animal products.
It is also pleasing to report the existing intelligence framework between UKBA and the FSA has been strengthened to improve the flow of risk information available for border and inland enforcement activities to target illegal animal products.
We can never have a zero risk but we continue to monitor and assess the changing threats from around the world. We therefore continue to work closely with the UK Border Agency (UKBA) to ensure that its anti-smuggling controls at the Great Britain (GB) border are responsive to new or changing animal health risks and to ensure it focuses on the most high-risk routings and goods.
Copies of the review will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses, on the DEFRA personal food imports website (http://www.defra.gov.uk/foodfarm/food/personal- import/index.htm), and we will be writing to interested groups and stakeholders providing them with the opportunity to comment on or query anything in the review and/or meet officials.
English National Park Authorities and the Broads Authority (Governance)
The nine national parks in England, along with the broads, represent some of our finest landscapes which have been a source of inspiration, challenge, and reassurance to our citizens over many generations. Each now has an independent authority, constructed along local authority lines, to maximise the benefits which we all derive from these special areas. In the coalition’s programme for government we said that
“We will review the governance arrangements of national parks in order to increase local accountability”
That commitment was honoured by a public consultation which ran from 9 November 2010 until 1 February 2011. In the consultation document we made it clear that the Government did not intend to remove or replace the authorities but was rather looking for ways in which their governance arrangements could be improved. We also made it clear that there could be variety between authorities—this would allow governance to better reflect their individual circumstances and histories and be consistent with the coalition Government’s commitment to decentralisation and localism.
I am today responding to the NPAs’ proposals by placing on DEFRA’s website and in the Library of the House a list of the proposals made by the NPAs and my response to them.
Central to this consultation was the question of accountability and the ultimate accountability is of course through the ballot box. Ever since the original legislation was being enacted in 1995, there have been calls for some members to be directly elected and that already happens in the Scottish NPAs. I have concluded that the time has now come for us to explore that option more thoroughly in England. I therefore propose to bring forward legislation which will allow for the possibility of elections in the national park authorities and the broads authority. Initially we propose to apply the new legislation in two NPAs on a pilot basis, namely the New Forest and the Peak district NPAs which provide different contexts on which to assess the impact of directly elected members.
DEFRA will be talking to the New Forest and Peak district NPAs in more detail about their pilots, covering in particular the number of members to be directly elected and the way they can be accommodated without increasing the overall size of those authorities.
Other changes include: altering the composition of the Dartmoor, Lake District and Exmoor authorities; some changes to the procedure for selecting “national” members (within the requirements of the OCPA code); removing the Secretary of State’s role in confirming parish appointments; in some NPAs (but not all) making non-councillors eligible for parish seats; applying a maximum limit to the period which all members may serve; requiring annual reports on how well the members of each authority have collectively performed and endorsing a number of changes which NPAs can make under their existing powers—for example, strengthening links between members and particular areas of the park or improving meeting arrangements. I also propose further work in some areas.
A number of the actions I have outlined will require formal consultation and others require further development in co-operation with relevant bodies such as the NPAs and the Local Government Association. An implementation plan is being prepared which will present this information in tabular form and will be available on DEFRA’s website (www.defra.gov.uk).
Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (Annual Report 2010-11)
I have today laid before this House a copy of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s annual report and accounts 2010-11, in accordance with schedule 7 paragraphs 5(2) and 7(3)(b) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
This is the 12th annual report published by the Commission.