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Written Statements

Volume 545: debated on Thursday 17 May 2012

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 17 May 2012

Business, Innovation and Skills

Government Chemist Review

The 15th annual review of the Government Chemist has been received. The review will be placed in the Libraries of the House plus those of the devolved Administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland. The review will also be laid before the Scottish Parliament.

Communities and Local Government

Local Government Finance

Today, I am publishing a series of documents which underpin the policy behind the Local Government Finance Bill.

The current flawed system of Government handouts to local authorities encourages a begging bowl mentality, with each council vying to be more deprived than its neighbour. Our reforms will allow councils to stand tall, and reward them for supporting local jobs and local firms. All councils, including the least prosperous areas, will have the opportunity to gain under this system.

Economic analysis by my Department, which I am placing in the Library of the House today, shows that these new laws and reforms deliver an opportunity for a £10 billion boost to the wider economy, generating more business rate revenues for councils.

The Local Government Finance Bill will enable local authorities across England to keep a share of the business rates they collect, giving them a strong financial incentive to promote local economic growth and directly linking a council’s financial revenue to the decisions they take to back local firms and local jobs. The bigger pot will mean there is more money to support frontline services, help pay off the deficit and still protect vulnerable communities.

In addition, the Bill gives local authorities autonomy in helping provide for the most vulnerable in their areas through designing local schemes of support for council tax.

Business rate growth will be shared evenly between central and local government. The “local share” will be retained in full by councils and will be set at 50% for the seven year period. The full “central share” will always be returned in grants to local government.

The Bill will support the success of the 24 confirmed enterprise zones across the country by enabling the uplift in business rates on those sites to be retained locally and invested back into growth projects across the local enterprise partnership area.

In addition councils will get to keep 100% of the business rates from new renewable energy projects. These will not count against the local-central shares. A centrally run safety net will provide support should a council’s income drop below a set baseline, protecting areas which suffer a downturn.

The technical documents being published today cover:

Business rates retention—to strengthen the incentive for councils to support local firms and local jobs.

Statements of intent covering renewable energy; the central and local shares of retained business rates; and the safety net and levy.

A technical paper setting out proposals on pooling arrangements for local authorities.

An analytical paper: “The economic benefits of local business rates retention”.

Localising support for council tax—to strengthen the incentive for councils to help their residents get back into employment.

Statements of intent setting out the detail of policy to be covered in forthcoming regulations on the prescribed requirements for schemes—including those for pensioners and the default scheme; transitional arrangements; council tax base adjustments and risk sharing of financial pressures; and the procedure for making local schemes.

A consultation on the funding of localised support for council tax

These will provide the details local authorities need to bring forward their own proposals for local schemes. I will also shortly be publishing guidance to help local authorities take account of work incentives and the needs of vulnerable people.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (Irish Protocol)

An intergovernmental conference was convened yesterday, 16 May 2012, in the margins of Coreper, to sign the protocol put forward by the Irish Government during negotiations on the treaty of Lisbon. The protocol will need also to be ratified by all 27 member states before it can be attached to the treaty on the functioning of the European Union and the treaty on European Union.

In the UK, under the European Union Act 2011, the Minister must lay a statement before Parliament under section 5 of the Act as to whether, in the Minister’s opinion, the protocol falls within section 4 of the Act—cases which attract a referendum. The 2011 Act also requires primary legislation to approve the protocol before the UK can ratify it. The statement will be laid within the two-month period specified in the Act and primary legislation will be introduced in due course.

Home Department

Animals in Scientific Procedures

I am pleased to inform the House that I have today placed in the Library and published the Government’s response to the public consultation on the options for transposition of European Directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes. Directive 2010/63/EU will replace Directive 86/609/EEC on which current United Kingdom legislation—the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986—is based. In common with other member states, the UK must transpose the provisions of the new directive into legislation by 10 November 2012 and implement them from 1 January 2013.

The Government welcome the new directive which strengthens the protection of animals used in scientific procedures and promotes the development, validation, acceptance and implementation of methods and strategies that replace, reduce and refine the scientific use of animals (the 3Rs). It also sets down detailed rules to ensure harmonisation and the proper functioning of the internal market. These are intended to rectify variations in the implementation of Directive 86/609/EEC which have tended to create barriers to trade in products and substances developed using animals in research and testing.

The public consultation was launched on 13 June 2011 and closed on 5 September 2011. The consultation paper invited views on the options for transposing the new directive and on the accompanying impact assessment. Responses were received from over 13,000 individuals and 98 organisations.

The Government’s response summarises the responses to all of the questions included in the public consultation and explains how we propose to transpose each of the articles and annexes of the new directive. The response also includes an estimate of the impact of our preferred approach to transposition of each of the provisions of the new directive.

In line with Government policy on the implementation of European legislation, we propose to “copy out” most of the provisions of the directive. There are, however, a number of areas in which we intend to retain current stricter United Kingdom standards. For example, we propose to retain special protection for dogs, cats and horses as well as non-human primates and to retain all current United Kingdom care and accommodation standards that are stricter than those set out in annex III to the directive. All are justified on animal welfare grounds or to maintain public confidence that animals used in experiments and testing will continue to receive a very high-level of protection.

We also propose to retain the current requirement that individuals carrying out regulated procedures on animals must hold a personal licence authorising them to do so. We will, however, explore the opportunities to simplify the detail of personal licence authorities and to remove current requirements which increase regulation without adding to the effectiveness of the licensing process. We will ensure any changes avoid detrimental impacts on levels of compliance or animal welfare and protection.

The directive introduces inspection for all member states but with a minimum frequency much lower than we currently practise in the United Kingdom. We propose to retain our current risk-based approach to inspection and are committed to maintaining a strong and properly resourced inspectorate and a full programme of inspections.

We estimate that these proposals will have no significant impact on costs or competitiveness.

The Government’s response can be found at: http://www. homeoffice.gov.uk/science-research/animal-research/

Justice

Economic Crime Committed by Commercial Organisations (Enforcement Tool)

Today the Solicitor-General and I are launching the “Consultation on a new enforcement tool to deal with economic crime committed by commercial organisations: Deferred prosecution agreements” (Cm 8348), which has been developed jointly by the Ministry of Justice and the Law Officers’ Departments.

Treating economic crime more seriously and taking steps to combat it more effectively are key commitments in the coalition agreement. We need to develop new tools for prosecutors to use alongside existing methods, to give them the flexibility to secure appropriate penalties for wrongdoing, at the same time as achieving better outcomes for victims. We believe that these proposals will enable prosecutors to take more effective action against commercial organisations which commit economic crimes.

The Government are clear that more needs to be done and that white collar crime should be treated as seriously as any other kind of offending. That is why we are consulting on a new enforcement tool: deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs).

Under a DPA, a prosecutor would lay but would not immediately proceed with criminal charges against a commercial organisation pending successful compliance with tough requirements such as financial penalties, restitution for victims, confiscation of the profits of wrongdoing and measures to prevent future offending.

DPAs would contribute to a just outcome, securing appropriate penalties for and the surrendering of the proceeds of wrongdoing, and benefits for victims in a way that is sanctioned by a judge, without the uncertainty, expense, complexity or time of a full criminal trial. They would enable commercial organisations to be held to account—but without unfairly affecting employees, customers, pensioners, suppliers and investors who were not involved in the behaviour that is to be penalised. And the process will be transparent: as DPAs will be public, the public will always know what wrongdoing has taken place, and the penalty that has been paid.

Copies of the document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, in the Vote Office and in the Printed Paper Office. The document is also available online, at:

www.justice.gov.uk/consultations.

The consultation will run until 9 August 2012. A response paper is scheduled to be published in October 2012.

Prime Minister

Parliamentary and Political Service Honours Committee

The previous Government had a policy of not recommending honours for political service, although some individuals were honoured for services to Parliament. The Government believe that there are many people in politics who demonstrate selfless commitment for the good of the nation and that it is right to recognise the best of them.

A new honours committee—the Parliamentary and Political Service Honours Committee—is therefore being established. It will consider candidates for honours from the Westminster Parliament and the devolved legislatures; the staffs of those bodies and the bodies which report directly to them (for example, the National Audit Office and the ombudsmen); and, voluntary workers and staff of the political parties.

Lord Spicer is the chairman of the new committee. The official members are the three Commons Chief Whips of the major parties. There are also to be at least four independent members: currently these are Baroness Hayman, Lord Butler of Brockwell, Dame Mary Keegan and Peter Riddell.

The membership has been chosen to include a balance of party members and those who do not have known party allegiances but have a good awareness of Parliament and the bodies which report to it. Because of time constraints, it has not been possible to select these independent members by the normal process of open advertising and written application in line with Nolan procedures. The intention is that when further appointments are to be made, they will be carried out using the normal processes for selecting honours committee members.

The new committee has been established for the birthday 2012 honours round and has the support of the three main parties. As with all the specialist honours committees, its recommendations are subject to the agreement of the main honours committee, chaired by the head of the civil service.

Transport

Tram Train Pilot

I have today given final approval to proceed with a pilot of tram train technology in south Yorkshire. I have asked south Yorkshire passenger transport executive to lead the delivery of the vehicles and to sponsor the pilot in collaboration with Network Rail, Northern Rail and Stagecoach Supertram.

The pilot I am announcing today will allow us to determine the practical and operational issues of extending tram trains from the national network to on-street running and running trams and heavy rail vehicles safely over existing heavy rail infrastructure. It will also allow us to gauge passenger perception and acceptability of tram train.

The knowledge that we obtain from the pilot will enable us to understand the technical and operational challenges involved in this project so that the concept can potentially be rolled out elsewhere in the UK.

The pilot will see the introduction from 2015 of new tram train vehicles capable of using both light and heavy rail infrastructure, so providing continuous travel from Sheffield’s Supertram network onto Network Rail’s national rail network, as well as providing more capacity on the Supertram system itself

The new vehicles will provide three services an hour operating from Parkgate retail park in Rotherham, travelling through Rotherham central station and joining up to the existing Supertram network at Meadowhall where the services will then continue onwards to Sheffield city centre. The project is also expected to create 25 new driver jobs locally, plus around 10 additional jobs in maintenance and revenue protection.

The pilot will run for two years and alongside the additional capacity being provided for the Supertram system, is expected to cost £58 million, including the cost of the vehicles and infrastructure changes.