Skip to main content

Written Statements

Volume 534: debated on Thursday 27 October 2011

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 27 October 2011

Business, Innovation and Skills

Apprenticeships (Progress and Delivery)

As demonstrated by the statistical first release published today (http://www. thedataservice.org.uk/statistics/statisticalfirstrelease/sfr _current/) we have seen a record year for apprenticeships, both in respect of the volumes of people starting and completing their apprenticeship. Provisional data for the full 2010-11 academic year show starts increased by over 50% to 442,700 with increases at all levels. Completions also saw a strong increase to 181,700.

We have delivered increases in apprenticeship starts at all age groups. Provisional data show that numbers of apprenticeship starts increased to 128,300 for those aged under 19, 138,900 for 19 to 24-year-olds and 175,500 for those aged 25 and over in 2010-11. For young people in particular, these are positive figures in a time when they are facing particular challenges in the labour market. This is very encouraging and employers are continuing to use apprenticeships as a means of developing the skills they need for their businesses.

Apprenticeships are first and foremost sustainable jobs, which makes it a remarkable achievement to deliver growth in the programme on such a scale. We can be confident that the growth being reported today is in those apprenticeships which businesses value and are investing in. Growth is evident across sectors.

We will build upon this success and continue to improve and strengthen the programme further so even more individuals and employers can access and benefit from an apprenticeship programme that is world class. As we look to the future we will continue to improve access to apprenticeships; improve and drive up quality for all apprenticeships; reduce bureaucracy; expand advanced level and higher apprenticeships and give employers greater ownership of the programme.

Treasury

Extraordinary ECOFIN

An extraordinary meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council was held in Brussels on 22 October 2011.

The Council met to prepare the European Council meeting of 23 October as regards measures to stabilise the situation on financial markets, restore confidence, and foster economic growth and employment. It held an exchange of views on bank recapitalisation and funding as part of a comprehensive strategy to be defined by the European Council and by Heads of State and Government of the euro area.

I emphasised the importance of a decisive co-ordinated recapitalisation as part of a comprehensive solution to the euro crisis, and that this should be accompanied by reform of Europe’s banking sector. I also underlined that there should be no watering down of state aid rules.

The president of the Council presented the outcome of the meeting to the European Council, and it was reflected in the European Council conclusions as follows:

“The European Council welcomes progress made by the Council (ECOFIN) on measures for the banking sector and invites the Council to finalise this work at its meeting of 26 October. These measures will be an essential component of a broader package whose other elements will be agreed by the Euro Summit of 26 October.”

Defence

British Nuclear Test Veterans

The Government are committed to providing effective, through-life health services for our service and ex-service personnel.

As part of that commitment, last year we commissioned an independent health needs audit by Miles and Green Associates. I am announcing today the publication of their report. I would also like to express my appreciation for the help and support provided to Miles and Green Associates by the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association (BNTVA).

The audit records the direct experience and views of nuclear test veterans about their health and social care needs. Whatever their particular health needs, most respondents indicated that, in general, they felt their health and social care needs were being met by the NHS although a number of issues were raised about access to social care. The veterans also made suggestions for the future relating to general health and social care needs, those more specific to veterans and ways in which relations and communications with the Ministry of Defence (MOD) could be improved.

The MOD will now consider the report’s findings and suggestions made by the veterans in detail and in consultation with other Government Departments and will wish to work with the BNTVA going forward on looking at the various issues raised.

A copy of the full report will be placed in the Library of the House and will also be available on the MOD’s website at the following address:

http://www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/AboutDefence/WhatWeDo/HealthandSafety/NuclearTests/

Submarine Dismantling Project

The Ministry of Defence will tomorrow— 28 October 2011—start a period of public consultation on the options for dismantling nuclear-powered submarines that have left service with the Royal Navy, including those that are in afloat storage at Devonport and Rosyth dockyards.

Submarines in afloat storage are maintained safely, in a similar way to operational submarines. As they age, however, and as further submarines leave service, the cost to the taxpayer of maintaining them is rising significantly, and space to store them is running out.

This consultation will seek the public’s views on the proposals that have been developed by the MOD’s Submarine Dismantling Project (SDP) for dismantling and disposing of the submarines in a safe, secure and environmentally responsible way. It will seek views on the three key decisions that need to be made about submarine dismantling:

How the radioactive material is removed from the submarines;

Where we carry out the removal of the radioactive material from the submarines; and

Which type of site is used to store the radioactive waste that is awaiting disposal.

The consultation will run for 16 weeks, from 28 October 2011 until 17 February 2012. This period has been extended from the 12-week minimum to account for the Christmas holidays and in recognition of the interest in the project.

A series of events, including exhibitions and workshops, will be held in and around the Devonport and Rosyth areas, where the candidate sites for the removal of the radioactive waste from the submarines are located. National workshops will also be held in accessible locations in England and Scotland.

Consultation events will be advertised in the local press and on the project website, www.mod.uk/submarinedismantling, where all relevant documentation, including extensive supporting information, will also be published. All the responses received during the consultation process will be considered by the MOD during its further analysis of the options before final decisions are made around 2013. Only then will planning applications for activities on specific sites be made.

Details of the MOD’s proposals and of the plans for public consultation are included in the SDP consultation document, copies of which will be placed in the Library of the House.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Parliamentary Question (Correction)

I should like to correct my response to a topical question on the application of the Freedom of Information Act to the new waterways charity (the Canal and River Trust) by the hon. Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames) on 13 October, Official Report, column 471.

The Government are publicly consulting on the point raised by the hon. Member, and have not yet taken up a position on the matter. The consultation closed on 24 October, and we are now considering the consultation responses, prior to making a decision. A copy of the consultation document can be found at www.defra.gov.uk/consult/2011/09/12/waterways-1109/.

The Government will publish their analysis of the responses and their own response later in the autumn.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Ascension Island

My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces, the Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) and I are pleased to inform the House that the financial dispute between the Ministry of Defence and the Ascension Island Government has been resolved and that we have agreed with the Ascension Island Council a number of changes to the island’s finance model which will help to ensure a sustainable future for Ascension.

Earlier this year, we commissioned a review of service delivery and finance arrangements on the island. That review was carried out by FCO officials working closely with all stakeholders. The three key recommendations of the review which we have agreed, and to which all stakeholders have committed, are:

The establishment of a Budget Consultation Forum to make recommendations on the Ascension Island Government’s budget. The forum will comprise representatives of the Ascension Island Government and the major, externally based taxpaying Employing Organisations on the island;

The replacement of Property Tax with a Business Levy based on employee headcount; and

A year-on-year reduction of 7% over the next four years in the levy on the major Employing Organisations.

We recognise the role played by the Island Council in this process, who have already begun a programme of significant efficiency savings. They will now consider the remainder of the recommendations in the report which concern the increase or implementation of taxes and duties and other means of raising revenue, and continue to reduce duplication of services on the island.

We welcome this approach which we believe will ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of service delivery and the viability of Ascension Island’s finances.

Prevention of Torture 2011-2015 (FCO Strategy)

I wish to make the House aware that the FCO has developed a Strategy for the Prevention of Torture. I have placed a copy of the strategy in the Library of the House and it is also available on the FCO website.

International action against torture has long been a priority for the UK. The UK considers torture to be an abhorrent violation of human rights and human dignity, and consistently and unreservedly condemns the practice. Preventing torture and tackling impunity for those who torture are essential components of safeguarding Britain’s security; and it is integral to fair legal systems and the rule of law. Torture prevention work also reinforces our consular work overseas when British nationals imprisoned abroad allege mistreatment.

The “Strategy for the Prevention of Torture” sets out FCO policy to 2015 and offers guidance to FCO posts on how they can contribute to preventing torture overseas. Our objective is to help international efforts to prevent torture globally by working to ensure:

Legal frameworks to prevent and prohibit torture are in place and are enforced;

States have the political will and capacity to prevent and prohibit torture;

Organisations on the ground have the expertise and training to prevent torture.

Health

HIV/AIDS

We have today laid before Parliament the Government response to the House of Lords Select Committee’s report “No vaccine, no cure: HIV and AIDS in the United Kingdom” (Cm 8190).

The Department of Health took part in the inquiry and the Government are grateful for the Committee’s report and agree with many of its recommendations.

Twenty-five years have passed since the Government’s first response to HIV and AIDS. At that time there was no effective treatment and an HIV diagnosis was seen as a life-limiting condition resulting in death. Today the availability of highly effective treatment has transformed the outlook for people with HIV.

As the report makes clear, we need to reduce undiagnosed HIV so people can benefit from effective treatment and to prevent HIV transmission. The Government’s modernisation of the NHS and priority for public health provides a good opportunity to improve outcomes for HIV and improve prevention.

The House of Lords ad hoc Committee’s report will also help inform the Department of Health’s new sexual health policy framework planned for 2012.

Copies of the Government’s response are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.

Transport

Rail Franchising

In May this year, the then Secretary of State announced that the next intercity west coast franchise would start on 9 December 2012. It was further announced that the Department intended to enter into negotiations with the incumbent franchisee (West Coast Trains Ltd and Virgin Rail Group) to secure affordable and value-for-money operations until the start of the new franchise.

I am pleased to announce that the Department has now agreed an extension with West Coast Trains Ltd and Virgin Rail Group. This agreement will extend their current franchise on the intercity west coast route from 1 April 2012 until the start of the new franchise.

Over the course of the extension three new 600-seat Pendolino trains will be added to the line. This is in addition to the new Pendolino train which entered service in July of this year. Also, 31 of the existing Pendolino trains will be lengthened from nine to 11 carriages, increasing the number of standard class seats on each train by almost 50%, from 320 to 470. In all, 106 new carriages are being introduced on the route making 28,000 extra seats available each day, an increase of 25%. This will relieve crowding on some of the busiest parts of the west coast main line which is one the UK economy’s most important transport corridors.

Virgin will also be responsible for providing important services enabling people to travel by train to the Olympic and Paralympic games next summer.