Skip to main content

Written Statements

Volume 540: debated on Tuesday 21 February 2012

Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Treasury

Air Passenger Duty (Northern Ireland)

Last September the Government announced measures to support air travel to and from Northern Ireland. From 1 November 2011 APD for passengers travelling on direct long-haul routes departing from airports in Northern Ireland was cut to the lower short-haul rate. To provide a lasting solution, the Government launched a further process to devolve aspects of APD to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Today, I can announce that the power to set APD rates for direct long-haul flights departing from Northern Ireland will be devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly and provided for in the Finance Bill 2012. Following devolution, it will be for the Assembly to determine what level of APD will apply to direct long-haul flights. The rates set by the Assembly will apply to the carriage of passengers on and from a day to be appointed by order, irrespective of when the ticket for the flight was booked or purchased.

Landfill Tax (Scotland)

I am today announcing that the Government will introduce legislation in Finance Bill 2012 to correct a flaw in landfill tax legislation, which means that landfill sites in Scotland have unintentionally been outside the scope of landfill tax.

The definition of a landfill site in landfill tax legislation refers to environmental legislation. Changes were made to this environmental legislation which meant that in 1999 sites moved from a framework of licences to a system of permits. Landfill tax legislation was duly amended and these amendments were brought into effect in England and Wales on 21 March 2000 and Northern Ireland on 17 January 2003. However, the Scottish Government did not introduce the necessary commencement order, thereby unintentionally taking each Scottish landfill site outside the scope of landfill tax from the date each new permit took effect.

The legislation will have full retrospective effect from 21 March 2000 to bring Scottish legislation into line with that in the rest of the UK.

No action is required by, or additional burden applied to, landfill site operators in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK.

Copies of the draft legislation and HMRC brief have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and are available on the Treasury website at:

www.hm-treasury.gov.uk.

Communities and Local Government

Integration

I am today publishing “Creating the Conditions for Integration”, the Government’s approach to enabling and encouraging integration in communities throughout England.

“Creating the Conditions” sets out how integration is achieved when neighbourhoods, families and individuals come together on issues that matter to them. It is based around five key factors:

I. Common ground—Shared aspirations and values, and a focus on what we have in common rather than on difference.

II. Responsibility—Promoting a strong sense of mutual commitment and obligation.

III. Social mobility—People able to realise their potential to get on in life.

IV. Participation and empowerment—People have the opportunities to take part and take decisions in local and national life.

V. Challenge to intolerance and extremism—A robust response to threats which deepen division and increase tensions.

Most people from different backgrounds get on well together, feel they belong to their neighbourhood and to this country, and have a sense of pride in the place where they live, but challenges remain in particular places. Building a more integrated society requires collective action across a wide range of issues, at national and local levels, by public bodies, private companies, voluntary and community organisations and, above all, communities and individuals. “Creating the Conditions” sets out the Government’s views and our role in this process.

We recognise that integration is a vital local issue. We will ensure that the integration benefits of national programmes and projects are recognised and supported. All Government Departments have an important role in tackling barriers to integration, in particular those relating to long-term social and economic challenges.

Beyond this, integration requires a local response and we strongly encourage local partners such as local authorities, police forces and other statutory bodies to work together to drive action and to learn from each other. To support this we will use tools such as the Localism Act 2011 to give people the power to come together to take action. We will seek opportunities to support projects that are sustainable through community or business support and which exemplify positive activities or pioneer new approaches. We are committed to outflanking and challenging extremism and intolerance and we will take the necessary action to do so.

Together, these are fundamental changes to how Government Departments and the rest of the public sector work in this area. This approach will make integration the everyday business of public services, the private sector and wider civic society, while ensuring local responsibility and the opportunity for everyone to contribute.

“Creating the Conditions for Integration” is available at: http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/ communities/integration. A copy of this publication will be placed in the Library of the House.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Farming Regulation Task Force Report

I am pleased to announce that the Government published their full response to the Farming Regulation Task Force report today.

I established the independent Farming Regulation Task Force in June 2010. Its report, published in May last year, covered the full range of the regulatory landscape that affects farming, and set a challenging agenda for changing the way we regulate, and how we work with farmers.

We published our interim response in November last year. At that time I said that Government would be bold and ambitious in responding to these recommendations. Out of over 200 recommendations we have said an immediate yes to 159, setting out a clear agenda for implementation, and are actively considering a further 31. Some we are exploring through formal consultations which are currently under way, and for others we are working closely with different parts of the food and farming sector to find solutions. Where we have decided that we are unable to take forward a recommendation, we have explained clearly why.

I am proud that farming is taking forward the Government’s better regulation agenda by focusing on risk-based intervention and changing the way we work with industry and stakeholders to develop solutions in partnership. We are committed to achieving this—the task force report and this response are only the start.

The full response is available on the DEFRA website www.defra.gov.uk.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Afghanistan

I wish to inform the House that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, together with the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development, is today publishing the 14th progress report on developments in Afghanistan since November 2010.

The Prime Minister and President Karzai signed the UK-Afghanistan Enduring Strategic Partnership document on 28 January. The document signals our shared vision of a secure, stable and prosperous Afghanistan able to maintain its own security and prevent the country from again being used as a safe haven for international terrorists. This builds on the strong message from the Bonn conference last year of the international community’s commitment to Afghanistan post-2014. The NATO Chicago summit in May and the Tokyo development conference in July will be the point at which the international community looks to deliver on the commitments made at Bonn. The Chicago and Tokyo conferences will demonstrate to the Afghan people and the insurgency that the international community will support Afghanistan far beyond 2014 and will not end when combat troops withdraw.

During the last month the UK continued to help the Government of Afghanistan build their capacity to deliver better public services and economic opportunities for its people. UK support to the Civilian Technical Assistance Programme helped the Ministry of Counter Narcotics and the Ministry of Public Health develop policies and programmes for the Afghan people. The UK also helped more than 3,400 people in Helmand access technical and vocational education and training, helping to raise incomes and generate economic growth.

Governor Mangal visited Kajaki for a Shura on 8 January. He was escorted by Afghan uniformed police. He travelled by road, which was the first time a provincial governor in Helmand had been able to follow this route for many years. The road move reflects a significant improvement in confidence last year.

In Central Helmand the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) successfully planned, commanded and executed Operation Rozi Roshan in Nahr-e Saraj. The operation involved 500 soldiers. Rozi Roshan was completely Afghan-led and represented a significant accomplishment for the ANSF. UK forces, while ready to assist, were present in only a supporting role.

In January the winter weather continued to have a tangible impact on insurgent activity. The number of security incidents was relatively low. However, we must expect to see these rise as the weather improves. In the spring the insurgency is likely to attempt to regain lost territory and with it the campaign momentum. The ANSF supported by ISAF are prepared for this but we should expect challenges ahead, particularly for the ANSF as they take the lead on more operations. However we continue to make steady progress, illustrated in part this month by Operation Rozi Roshan and developments at the Infantry Branch School. We remain on track for the Afghans to assume full security responsibility across Afghanistan at the end of 2014.

I am placing the report in the Library of the House. It will also be published on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website (www.fco.gov.uk).

Review of Consular Evacuation Procedures

In my written statement of 4 July 2011, Official Report, column 74WS, I informed the House that in light of the challenges posed by the evacuation of British nationals from Libya, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) had conducted a review of its evacuation arrangements in a crisis. A copy of the Review of Consular Evacuation Procedures was placed in the Library of the House.

I gave instructions that the recommendations of the review should be implemented in full by 31 December 2011. This statement updates the House on the FCO’s progress in implementing the review’s recommendations.

The crises of early 2011 were an unprecedented series of challenges for the FCO’s crisis management capability. They also presented an invaluable opportunity to learn the necessary lessons and to refine our crisis management systems in order to ensure we deliver the best possible service to British nationals in future. In response to the recommendations in the review the FCO has:

Developed a more agile and clear crisis decision-making structure, based on the Gold/Silver/Bronze crisis response system used by emergency services. As part of this, the FCO board will be carrying out a high-level training session in early March;

Introduced London Crisis Response Teams made up of trained FCO staff across London who can be rapidly deployed to augment the FCO’s crisis response;

Expanded our crisis training and exercising capability, to deliver an increased level of training across the global network;

Improved the use of digital and social media for messaging British nationals before and during a crisis;

Improved our call handling systems;

Launched a project to define our longer-term Crisis IT and communications needs, under which we have successfully piloted pre-crisis registration of British nationals via SMS text messaging;

Revised our guidance for FCO staff on crisis planning and response;

Designed a new framework for Crisis Management Planning by our overseas posts, which will be in place across the network by the end of 2012;

Increased the numbers of volunteers in our Rapid Deployment Team network, including by expanding the coverage of the Americas team to include South America, and recruiting for a new middle east and South Asia team;

Clarified key policy issues, for example on how costs are charged in a crisis, in order to ensure that decisions can be taken more quickly during future crisis responses;

Intensified our contact with others involved in our response to key crises, including private sector companies, chartering companies etc.;

Developed closer links with Ministry of Defence crisis teams, including by embedding MOD staff in the FCO’s Crisis Centre;

Increased the numbers of staff dedicated to crisis work in Crisis Management Department.

I have placed in the Library of the House a table which provides more detail of how we have implemented the review’s recommendations.

These improvements to FCO systems and practices were tested in recent crises, most notably the Bangkok floods (October 2011), the evacuation of embassy staff from Tehran (November 2011) and the sinking of the cruise ship Costa Concordia (January 2012). On each occasion, we implemented the Gold/Silver/Bronze command and control system, which promoted clear and quick decision making and communication, and activated the London Crisis Response Teams, enabling us to scale up our crisis response quickly and sustainably.

It will be a priority for 2012 to ensure that these improvements are fully embedded into FCO processes to ensure that we have genuinely upgraded our crisis planning and response systems. Specific priorities will include:

Regularly exercising the London response to a crisis, including by the FCO board;

Implementing a crisis IT project to design and implement best practice systems for maintaining reliable data about British nationals before and during a crisis;

Adopting the new crisis management plan across all UK posts overseas, supported by a programme of training and exercising;

Upgrading the FCO’s Crisis Centre to expand its operational capacity and co-locate it with its out-of-hours global response centre.

Each crisis throws up a unique set of challenges. We attach importance to learning the lessons from each one, based on a thorough and objective assessment of our response. We are confident that by implementing the recommendations of the review of evacuation procedures, we have made important and sustainable improvements to our crisis planning and response systems and that this has enhanced the quality of our crisis response. However, we recognise the need to avoid complacency in this critical and unpredictable area of work, and will ensure that we continue to carry out regular reviews of our systems.

Justice

Ministerial Council on Deaths in Custody

The creation of the Ministerial Council on Deaths in Custody was announced in 2008 and it has been in operation since March 2009. Its creation was in response to an independent review of previous structures—the Forum for Preventing Deaths in Custody and the Ministerial Roundtable on Suicide. Significant reforms were made to these structures and the council has been working effectively for three years. I am pleased to announce that, following an evaluation of the effectiveness of the arrangements, the council will be funded to continue for a further three-year term. Lord Harris of Haringey has been reappointed as chair of the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody.

The council comprises three tiers, the first of which is a ministerial board, chaired jointly by the Ministry of Justice and ministerial colleagues from the Department of Health and Home Office. The board brings together senior leaders across the custodial sectors as well as regulatory and third sector stakeholders to take forward an agenda aimed at making custodial settings safer and contributing to a reduction in deaths.

The second tier is the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody. This is an advisory non-departmental public body. It is chaired by Lord Harris of Haringey and consists of six independent expert panel members. The panel is the principal source of advice to Ministers and the board on measures to reduce deaths in custody.

The third tier is a broad-based stakeholder and practitioner group. There are over 100 members of this group, representing the interests of families, third sector organisations, practitioners from all sectors and the inspectorate and investigatory bodies.