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Written Statements

Volume 533: debated on Tuesday 18 October 2011

Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Treasury

Air Passenger Duty (Northern Ireland)

From 1 November 2011, the rate of APD for direct long-haul passengers departing from airports in Northern Ireland will be cut to the short-haul rate, which is currently £12 in economy and £24 in business and first class.

This measure is a response to the unique challenge facing Northern Ireland and is designed to ensure local airports remain competitive, demonstrating the Government’s commitment to stimulating and rebalancing the Northern Ireland economy.

In parallel the Government are also launching a process for the devolution of aspects of APD to the Northern Ireland Assembly to provide a lasting solution to the unique circumstances Northern Ireland faces.

Devolution of APD to Northern Ireland will require primary legislation. The precise scope of devolution will be agreed in close consultation with the Northern Ireland Executive.

UK's Counter-Terrorist Asset-Freezing Regime

Under the Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc. Act 2010 (the Act), the Treasury is required to report quarterly to Parliament on the operation of the UK’s asset-freezing regime mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 1373.

This is the third report under the Act and it covers the period from 1 July 2011 to 30 September 20111.

This report also covers the UK implementation of the UN al-Qaeda asset-freezing regime.

As of 30 September 2011, a total of just over £200,0002 of funds were held frozen in the UK. This covers funds frozen under the UK’s domestic terrorist asset-freezing regime, mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 1373, and also funds frozen under the UN al-Qaeda asset-freezing regime, mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 1989.

(1) UK’s domestic terrorist asset freezing regime under the Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc. Act 2010

As of 30 September 2011, a total of 84 accounts containing just over £100,000 were frozen in the UK under the domestic terrorist asset-freezing regime. No new accounts were frozen during the quarter.

Operation of the Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc. Act 2010

Asset-freezing designations and reviews

In the period from 1 July 2011 to 30 September 2011, the Treasury made no new designations under the Act. No reviews of existing designations were completed during the quarter.

Licensing

A total of 10 licences were issued this quarter under the Act in relation to six persons subject to an asset-freeze.

In addition to issuing licences relating to a specific person, the Treasury may also issue general licences, which apply to all persons designated under a particular regime or regimes.

No general licences were issued this quarter under the Act.

Legal Challenges

Two legal challenges against designations made under both the Terrorism (United Nations Measures) Order 2009 and the Act were ongoing in the quarter covered by this report.

(2) UN Al-Qaeda Asset-Freezing Regime

The UN al-Qaeda asset-freezing regime, established under UNSCR 1267, is implemented in the UK by Council Regulation (EC) No 881/2002. Following the split of the UNSCR 1267 al-Qaeda and Taliban regime into two separate regimes in June, this quarterly report will cover just the UN al-Qaeda regime mandated by UNSCR 1989.

As of 30 September 2011, a total of 41 accounts containing just over £100,0003 were frozen in the UK under the al-Qaeda asset-freezing regime. The unfreezing of 43 accounts since the previous quarter was a result of a number of delistings by the UN (see the listings section below).

Listings

During this quarter, the EU added six people and two entities to the list in annex I to Council Regulation (EC) No 881/2002.

Six people and three entities were delisted during the quarter. Of these, five individuals and three entities had UK connections.

Licences

One individual licence was issued in this quarter in relation to a person subject to an asset freeze under the al-Qaeda asset-freezing regime.

Seventeen licences were revoked in respect of the five individuals who were delisted.

(3) Proceedings

In the quarter to 30 September 2011, no proceedings were initiated in respect of breaches of the prohibitions of the Act or the Al-Qaida and Taliban (Asset-Freezing) Regulations 2010.

1The detail that can be provided to the House on a quarterly basis is subject to the need to avoid the identification, directly or indirectly, of personal or operationally sensitive information.

2This figure reflects the most up-to-date account balances available and includes approximately $64,000 of suspected terrorist funds frozen in the UK. This has been converted using exchange rates as of 05/10/11.

3Includes approximately $64,000 of suspected terrorist funds in the UK.

Energy and Climate Change

Off-Grid Energy Market

In my statement of 21 January, I informed the House that I wrote to ask the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to bring forward its off-grid energy market study. I subsequently advised the House that the OFT had agreed to this. I can now report that the OFT has today published its findings from the market study into the off-grid energy market.

The market study focuses on the three main off-grid energy sources: heating oil, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and micro-generation. The study examined the available evidence to find few competition concerns in the heating oil market with 97% of consumers having access to four or more independent suppliers. Nevertheless, OFT will continue to look at any evidence of specific market abuse and will take action as necessary.

The study did find that action is needed to protect heating oil consumers in some areas. In September the OFT acted against some heating oil price comparison websites as to their independence—consumers need to be confident that price comparisons are what they seem. The OFT also has particular concerns where heating oil suppliers charge a different price on delivery from that quoted when the order was taken. A successful prosecution by trading standards in August for a supplier misquoting prices has affirmed the law. The OFT is actively examining a number of practices and is engaging with industry to ensure consumer law compliance and will take swift enforcement action as necessary.

Different issues arise in the LPG market where the study has commented on the generally positive initial impact of the Competition Commission Orders from 2009 to make it easier for consumers to switch supplier and that the OFT will continue to monitor this area. The study also comments upon consumer issues in the micro-generation market. Here the Government are supporting the microgeneration certification scheme (MCS), an industry-led certification scheme with an OFT-level consumer code of practice. Only MCS certified installers and products are eligible for the renewable heat premium payment grant scheme.

The study recognises the hugely challenging conditions in December 2010 with 20% of annual heating oil demand being delivered in three working weeks of that month when snow and ice disrupted the road network. Ahead of next winter, my Department has been working with industry and consumer bodies, in a national campaign launched in mid-September, to encourage heating oil customers to order early and ensure they are well prepared for winter. We have also reminded the downstream oil industry to ensure that they have sufficient salt to maintain access at their terminals and depots.

Work by the Department for Transport to improve winter resilience has ensured that the country will enter this winter season well prepared—this includes having a national strategic salt reserve; setting up a salt stock portal to monitor how much stock local highway authorities hold; as well as making sure councils make best use of their salt supplies. While we have to acknowledge there may be some transport disruption in the event of severe winter weather, this work ensures that the country’s transport systems are better equipped to cope.

I welcome the OFT’s action to address the concerns of consumers and its continued engagement in these markets that complement our continuing wider work to improve resilience ahead of next winter.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Action Plan

I am today publishing an action plan for tree health and plant biosecurity.

Biosecurity threats to Britain’s trees and forests are on the increase. To improve the levels of preparedness, we have developed an action plan which sets out a coherent, joined up approach to plant health strategy. This work sets out an agenda for actions to be taken now and in the future:

to minimise the risk of new threats from entering the UK;

to enable us to understand more about the threats we face;

to work with society to make it more aware of threats and pathways;

to identify positive steps which professionals and other stakeholders can take to improve the resilience of trees, woodlands, and forests; and

to ensure an effective evidence base is developed and maintained to inform decisions.

The recommendations of this action plan will be used to steer future evidence and research priorities and activities.

Copies of the “Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Action Plan” are available in the House Library and on DEFRA, FERA and the Forestry Commission’s websites.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

British Consulate-General (Calgary, Canada)

I wish to update the House on recent changes to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s overseas network. As I said in the House on 11 May 2011, there will be no strategic shrinkage of Britain’s diplomatic influence overseas. I made it clear in a speech in London on 8 September that I intend to strengthen the long term capability and international effectiveness of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and to improve our country’s capacity to pursue effective foreign policy for years and even decades to come.

So I am pleased to confirm to Parliament the opening in 2012 of a British consulate-general in Calgary, as announced by the Prime Minister during his visit to Canada on 22 September. The new consulate-general will maintain our existing UK trade and investment operation in Calgary, while adding significant new capability for pursuing our wider political and environmental interests within this dynamic province. This measure underscores my determination to extend the UK’s global reach and strengthen our influence in the world. It also supports my commitment to deepen and refresh our relationship with Canada, an important ally and long-standing friend of the UK. I intend to appoint a fully accredited, resident British consul-general to take up position from summer 2012.

The province of Alberta is Canada’s third largest internal economy, and has led Canadian growth for 20 years. This growth is fuelling commercial opportunities across a diverse range of sectors, including telecoms, agrifood, biotech, chemicals, electronics, energy and corporate services. British companies are heavily involved in the automotive sector, financial services, creative media, chemicals, advanced engineering, IT, and healthcare, as well as in energy and power. Some 50 Albertan companies have UK investments. Opening a consulate-general will add value to our existing trade and investment operations in support of British commercial interests.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office will meet the cost of appointing and maintaining a resident British consul-general in Calgary through the reallocation of existing resources and without any detrimental impact on front-line activities.

Arrangements for UK visas and consular services in the region are unaltered. Our consulate-general in Vancouver will continue to provide a consular service in the region, including for Alberta.

The strength of our embassy network is a signal to the world of our engagement and commitment to international peace and security. Through strengthening and in some places by expanding Britain’s diplomatic network beyond Europe, we will ensure that the UK has the necessary reach and capacity to respond quickly and effectively when British companies need our assistance or British nationals are in danger. The extension and strengthening of our global diplomatic network, with staff who have the necessary abilities and diplomatic skills, are key objectives of this Government and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have made funding these goals a priority.

Health

NHS Blood and Transplant Commercial Review

The Department’s commercial review of NHS blood and transplant (NHSBT) has now concluded.

The review was an outcome of the Department of Health’s review of arm’s length bodies (ALBs), which concluded that there were strong arguments for retaining the majority of NHSBT’s functions within a single national system. However, it also concluded that there could be opportunities for more cost-effective operations and commercial arrangement within the divisions of NHSBT.

The review examined NHSBT’s non-donor facing activities, including, estates, testing, processing and logistics, with the aim of helping NHSBT further improve the efficiency of its operations.

The review has made a number of recommendations to support the continued improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of the organisation, which includes working with NHS and other organisations to make more efficient use of voluntarily donated blood.

There are nine recommendations from the review:

that more work, with strategic leadership from the Department of Health and the Welsh Government, should be done both at national and trust level to support trusts, in achieving and maintaining best practice, to reduce the inappropriate use of red cells, platelets and fresh frozen plasma; this would in turn reduce demand and direct costs on NHSBT;

that NHSBT should work with internal and external stakeholders, and publicise its operational and technical data requirements at the trust interface, so that the development of independent stock and operational systems at trusts remain compatible with NHSBT systems;

that NHSBT should continue to develop its pilot studies on integrated transfusion services and should publish the findings and results;

that as NHSBT pilots and launches services with particular trusts, it should maintain a clear segregation (in accounting and reporting) between its developing transfusion services and its core blood supply service;

that NHSBT should monitor alternative provider capability, particularly if there are “make or buy” decisions. Before investing in development projects, NHSBT should ensure it checks whether products or services are already available from existing providers;

that in its current investigation of the requirements for the NHS organ donor register, NHSBT should ensure it has access to all necessary skills and resources to ensure the register is successfully developed and is fit for purpose;

the Department of Health should pursue opportunities for efficiencies within the UK blood services with the other UK Health Departments;

that NHSBT should ensure complete transparency in its financial reporting between its different services and its separate funding sources. The Department of Health should review whether any formal changes to its financial instructions to NHSBT are required to facilitate this; and

that the Department of Health reviews and oversees the mechanism for setting the blood price. The new process to be agreed with NHSBT and the other key stakeholders as a method that continues to command the confidence of NHSBT’s customers, takes account of blood policy and safety requirements, drives improvements in operational and financial efficiency and is transparent.

A copy of “NHS Blood and Transplant Commercial Review” has been placed in the Library. Copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.

Home Department

Extradition Review

I am today announcing the publication of an independent review of the UK’s extradition arrangements, a copy of which has been placed in the House Library. The review was announced to Parliament on 8 September 2010.

The coalition’s Government’s “Programme for Government” document, published on 20 May 2010, stated that:

“We will review the operation of the Extradition Act—and the US/UK extradition treaty—to make sure it is even-handed”.

There are a number of areas of the UK’s extradition arrangements which have attracted significant controversy in recent years. The Government understand that these are longstanding concerns and I accordingly asked the independent panel to consider the following issues:

the breadth of Secretary of State discretion in an extradition case;

the operation of the European arrest warrant, including the way in which those of its safeguards which are optional have been transposed into UK law;

whether the forum bar to extradition should be commenced;

whether the US-UK extradition treaty is unbalanced;

whether requesting states should be required to provide prima facie evidence.

The review panel has reached the following conclusions:

Improvements to the EAW can be made to ensure it functions more effectively through both legislative amendments and enhanced dialogue and co-operation at EU-level;

The forum bars to extradition should not be introduced; however, guidance for prosecutors on shared jurisdiction should be agreed and published;

The UK’s extradition arrangements with the US are not unbalanced. There is no practical difference between the information submitted by the UK and the US;

Requesting states should not be required to provide prima facie evidence when making a request to the UK; however, the Government should periodically review the designation of extradition partners;

The breadth of the Home Secretary’s involvement in extradition should not be extended. Instead the panel recommends that cases in which a supervening event occurs after the end of the extradition process should be considered by the High Court rather than by the Secretary of State.

The Government will carefully examine the review panel’s report and will announce what action is to be taken in due course.

Justice

Lasting Power of Attorney Donees

Under section 10(2) of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (the Act), an individual who is bankrupt may not be appointed as donee of a lasting power of attorney (LPA) in relation to P’s property and affairs.

The bankruptcy of a donee is also one of the prescribed grounds for an objection to be made to the Public Guardian against the registration of a lasting power of attorney, where the power relates to P’s property and affairs.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland made the following statement in Committee Stage during the Act’s passage through Parliament:

“We have therefore decided that the Office of the Public Guardian will check to see if prospective financial attorneys are bankrupt when an LPA is to be registered. That information will be available to the Office of the Public Guardian throughout and should make it unnecessary for the donee to agree a statement to that effect or for it to be included on the notification. If the donee is bankrupt, then the LPA is invalid. That will achieve the noble Earl's objective” [Official Report, House of Lords, 27 January 2005; Vol. 668, c. 1417-1418.]

In the light of this statement, and although there is no statutory obligation to carry out these extra insolvency checks, this has been the practice of the Office of the Public Guardian since the implementation of the Act in 2007.

The Public Guardian has recently made an assessment of the effectiveness and value of this checking process. From 1 April 2010 to 31 March 2011, over 152,000 LPAs were registered and subject to a search on the ISBR. Of all these checks however, only one attorney was found to have been bankrupt at the point of registration. In addition, these checks can only ever identify bankruptcy at the point of registration—not at any other point in the ongoing life of the LPA as a legal document.

Given the nugatory work and the additional bureaucracy, this practice will cease with immediate effect. Objections to registration of an LPA on the grounds of a donee’s bankruptcy may still be made and in such circumstances the Public Guardian will not register the instrument in line with the Act’s requirements.