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Written Statements

Volume 542: debated on Tuesday 20 March 2012

Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Attorney-general

Departmental Prosecutions

I have agreed with my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the Secretary of State for Health arrangements between the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Department of Health (DH) and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for the conduct of prosecutions.

Currently DWP and DH prosecutions are conducted by in-house prosecutions teams within those Departments. Under the forthcoming change, the conduct of such prosecutions will be assigned by the Attorney-General to the Director of Public Prosecutions under section 3(2)(g) of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985.

The transfer will take place from 1 April 2012.

Transferring these functions will allow DWP and DH to draw directly on the CPS’ expertise and resources and to better accommodate fluctuations in prosecution volumes. Arrangements are in place to ensure partnership and accountability between the three organisations.

Treasury

National Loan Guarantee Scheme

At the autumn statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a package of measures designed to ease the flow of credit to smaller businesses. The national loan guarantee scheme (NLGS) was one of these measures. Under the NLGS, the Government will allow eligible banks to issue limited quantities of Government-guaranteed debt, up to a total of £20 billion. Banks will be required to pass on the resultant reduction in funding cost through a reduction in the interest rate (by 1 percentage point) charged on new loans to small businesses: businesses with turnover of less than £50 million per annum.

The scheme constitutes state aid to participating banks and to small businesses, which the European Commission approved on 14 March 2012; the approval statement can be found by following the web link to this footnote1.

However, the scheme is designed in such a way that banks do not retain any benefit; that means the reduction in the cost of borrowing from the Government-guaranteed debt is either passed on to the small businesses or paid to the Exchequer in the form of a fee. Details on the design of the scheme are published today; please follow this link for further information http://www.hm-treasury. gov.uk/nlgs.

In setting up this guarantee scheme, the Government are relying on their statutory powers derived from Section 228 of the Banking Act 2009. As indicated in the autumn statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the £20 billion would not be an additional contingent liability for HM Treasury, as it was previously recorded when the Bank of England asset purchase facility was set up.

As such, this is an effective transfer from the corporate operations of the asset purchase facility, a subsidiary company of the Bank of England with an explicit guarantee from HM Treasury, to the balance sheet of HM Treasury.

1http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do? reference=IP/12/244&format=HTML&aged=0& language=EN&guiLanguage=en

Communities and Local Government

Unlocking Growth in Cities

I am delighted today to inform the House that the Government and Manchester have agreed a ‘city deal’ which focuses on a new financial instrument to drive growth based on an ‘earn back’ principle.

In December the Government launched “Unlocking Growth in Cities”, which set out the terms for a programme of city deals—binding agreements that enable cities to negotiate the devolution of the specific powers, resources and responsibilities required to meet locally determined economic and social objectives.

Over recent months, I have undertaken negotiations with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and local enterprise partnership to bring forward radical devolution proposals that will enable them to drive economic growth. At the heart of this ‘deal’ is an intention to create a revolving infrastructure fund, allowing Greater Manchester to ‘earn back’ a portion of the additional tax revenue from the increased gross value added generated by the £1.2 billion it is investing in infrastructure, on a payment-by-results basis. Greater Manchester will reinvest ‘earned back’ funds into further infrastructure projects, prioritised with regard to their ability to drive further economic activity.

This enterprising model is symbolic of the sorts of innovations that I hope will be equalled and surpassed by future ‘city deals’.

Other elements of the deal commit Manchester to:

Establish a Greater Manchester investment framework to align core economic funds from central Government, European funding, and the private sector funding to drive economic growth. Investment will be prioritised on the basis of gross value added and jobs per pound of public funding.

Create a city apprenticeship and skills hub to channel participation funding direct to employers, in particular small and medium-sized enterprises.

Strengthen Greater Manchester’s business growth hub, which includes access to trade, investment and businesses advice, with Government contributing £4.4 million of transitional funding, prior to local funding from enterprise zone revenues coming on-stream from 2015.

Develop Manchester’s role as a beacon for high value inward investment. Greater Manchester and UK Trade and Investment will work jointly to analyse Manchester’s assets and opportunities, and then to pursue the investment pipeline that emerges. This will include analysis of Greater Manchester’s new Graphene Institute and existing links to emerging economies including China and India.

Greater Manchester will establish a low carbon hub, and work with Department of Energy and Climate Change to develop a plan to reduce emissions and UK Green Investments and Greater Manchester plan to establish and fund a 50/50 joint venture company (Greater Manchester Green Developments Ltd) to develop a portfolio of investment propositions (e.g. retrofit housing, retrofit public buildings, heat networks).

Establish a joint homes and communities agency and Greater Manchester housing investment board to set up an investment fund, utilising national investment streams and locally generated resources to develop new housing, both for market sale and affordable access, initially on land in public ownership. It would also identify opportunities to bring additional empty homes back into use.

Commit Government and Greater Manchester to work together towards delivery of a package of transport proposals encompassing devolution of the Northern and possibly the Trans-Pennine Express franchises (working with other authorities including Merseyside, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear and West Yorkshire); bus improvement measures, including the devolution of central subsidies and smart ticketing; and devolution of local transport majors funding.

This is the second city deal to come forward. Further city deals are being negotiated.

Defence

Service Complaints Commissioner

I am pleased to lay before Parliament today the Service Complaints Commissioner’s fourth annual report on the fairness, effectiveness and efficiency of the service complaints system.

The independent oversight and scrutiny of the system provided by the commissioner continue to help us improve further the manner in which we handle complaints. I and the service chiefs value this contribution and are committed to ensuring we have a complaints system in which service personnel and their families have confidence.

The Ministry of Defence and the services continue to work closely with the commissioner, and I am pleased that this report acknowledges the changes we have made to the system over the last 12 months and the further improvements planned for 2012. We are not complacent and are committed to continuous improvement.

I will provide a formal response to the commissioner once I and the services have had time to consider fully the findings of the report and the recommendations made.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Environment Council (9 March 2012)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and I represented the UK at the Environment Council in Brussels on 9 March. Stewart Stevenson, Scottish Minister for Environment and Climate Change; John Griffiths, Welsh Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development; and Alex Attwood, Northern Irish Minister of the Environment, also joined the delegation.

The day was divided into climate change items before lunch and environment items from the lunchtime discussion onwards.

The Council adopted conclusions on follow up to the 17th session of the conference of the parties to the United Nations framework convention on climate change and the 7th session of the meeting of the parties to the Kyoto protocol in Durban. The text sets out the EU position on the outcome of this conference, strongly welcoming the positive outcomes which further implement the Cancun agreements, pave the way for immediate and concrete actions on the ground and lay a solid foundation through the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. The text also looks ahead to the next conference, C0P18 in Doha, signalling the EU priorities for this conference, in particular, progress on mitigation and on agreement of a new, single, legally binding treaty applicable to all. Through these conclusions the EU and its member states confirmed that they would submit information on a EU ‘QELRO’ (the target under the Kyoto protocol) by 1 May 2012.

Unfortunately the Council was unable to adopt conclusions on the 2050 low carbon road map. For the second time, Poland vetoed the conclusions. However, 26 member states were able to sign up to presidency conclusions, which recognised that the cost effective trajectory for EU emission reductions to 2050 passed through domestic milestones of minus 40% in 2030 and minus 60% in 2040. Those 26 member states also called on the Commission to present timely and cost effective policy proposals to deliver the emissions reductions in the road map.

The environment half of the day began with a lunchtime discussion on preparations for the Rio+20 conference in June, at which Ministers debated the approach that the EU and member states should take, especially regarding the sustainable development goals (SDGs). After the discussion, Ministers moved back to the Council chamber to adopt non-legislative Council conclusions under the title Rio+20: Pathways to a sustainable future. Ministers stressed their commitment to playing an active role, with a view to contributing to an ambitious outcome in Rio. The Council welcomed the proposal on SDGs as it could contribute to a more focused and coherent action towards sustainable development and confirmed the willingness of the EU and its member states to engage in further discussion on this topic.

Ministers then considered the legislative proposal on restricting or prohibiting the cultivation of genetically modified organisms. The presidency pushed hard for political agreement on their compromise text but was ultimately unsuccessful in securing the necessary support as it was opposed by France, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Belgium, Slovakia and the UK. I made it clear that the UK Government could not accept the presidency text because we still had fundamental concerns about the component of the proposal which would provide for unilateral bans of GM crops. I explained that the UK Government were keen to pursue a positive and workable outcome in order to improve the functioning of the EU authorisation system in a way that is legally secure. The presidency concluded discussions by saying it would consider next steps.

For the final substantive item of the day, the presidency held a legislative orientation debate on LIFE, the sole direct funding instrument for environment and climate change in the EU budget. Given the late hour, the UK and other member states who intervened mainly limited themselves to the questions posed by the presidency on geographical balance and simplification. On geographical balance we asserted that national allocations should be reinstated for all projects, and supported the extension of LIFE to the EU’s overseas countries and territories. Regarding simplification, we supported the presidency’s approach of reinstating the eligibility of permanent staff costs and VAT, but stressed that this should be balanced by a reduction in the co-financing rate. The UK also noted the relevance to LIFE of the wider negotiations on the multi-annual financial framework and the need for the LIFE programme budget to be in line with the UK view on the overall EU budget.

Transport

GLA Transport Grant (2012-13)

During the spending review in 2010, my predecessor agreed a four year funding settlement for transport in London with the Mayor of London. In line with my duties under the GLA Act 1999, and after formally consulting the Mayor, I am therefore today reconfirming the GLA transport grant for 2012-13 at £2.829 billion. This grant is provided by the Government to Transport for London to deliver transport services and investment in the capital, including London Underground.

In line with my predecessor’s 20 October 2010 letter to the Mayor “Spending Review 2010: TfL funding agreement” and the Chancellor’s fare announcement on 20 October 2011, £881 million of this grant is designated an investment grant. This will support the delivery of vital tube upgrades, providing journey time savings and extra capacity for passengers, as well as investment in station upgrades and other projects, as set out in annex B of the 20 October letter. The remaining £1.948 billion is for the purposes of TfL.

Work and Pensions

Employment Support

I confirmed in my written ministerial statement to the House on 7 March 2012 that the Remploy board would consider any credible proposals for the exit of businesses or parts of businesses and any other proposals for ways of avoiding redundancies from the 36 factories that the board have identified as unviable and subject to consultation proposed for closure.

I am now able to confirm that Remploy will publish details of the commercial process on its website today at www.remploy.co.uk. This includes contact information to assist those who wish to put forward an expression of interest.

At all points the priority of Remploy and the Government will be to minimise the number of disabled people affected by these announcements and to provide individualised assistance to employees to move into mainstream employment.