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Written Statements

Volume 545: debated on Tuesday 22 May 2012

Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Defence

Government Pipeline and Storage System

A draft Energy Bill has been published today, including provisions to enable the sale of the Government Pipeline and Storage System (GPSS).

The GPSS was established at the beginning of the second world war to supply aviation fuel to military airfields across the country. Since then it has grown to become an important commercial asset, serving a number of major civil airports such as Heathrow and Gatwick. Military use now only equates to around 10% of the GPSS throughput, with the system distributing around 40% of aviation fuel in the UK.

Following a review of the GPSS it has been concluded that it does not need to remain under MOD ownership and could benefit from the investment that a private sector operator can be expected to bring, although a final decision on sale will be subject to market conditions at the time. Such investment has the potential to increase the resilience of the system and allow even greater commercial development by removing current restrictions unless there is an underpinning defence requirement. Sale will not impact on defence outputs and military requirements can be met through contractual arrangements with the purchaser of the system. Consultation is being undertaken across Government to ensure other outputs are similarly accounted for.

The primary purpose of the legislation is to create a set of transferrable rights to maintain, use, remove, replace or renew the GPSS, to restore land if any part of it is removed or abandoned, to inspect or survey the GPSS or the land on or under which the GPSS runs and to access the land on or under which the GPSS runs for these purposes.

The legislation will also provide that where an interest in land is depreciated as a result of the creation of these rights, the owner will be entitled to compensation and impose an obligation on the owner of the GPSS to pay compensation in respect of loss caused by the exercise of these rights.

An exercise is being launched today to notify those landowners on or under whose land the GPSS runs and interested bodies of the impact the legislation will have on them and provide them with the opportunity to comment on the draft provisions, which have been published as part of the draft Energy Bill. As part of this exercise I am also writing today to all those MPs within whose constituency it is situated.

More detailed information can be found on the MOD’s website at: http://www.mod.uk/gpss.

Comments on the draft provisions should be submitted by 31 July and the Government’s response will be published on the MOD website shortly thereafter.

Successor Submarine Programme

I wish to inform the House that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has signed contracts, worth approximately £350 million (excluding VAT), for the first 18 months of work on the assessment phase of the Successor submarine programme.

The Successor submarine programme will deliver the replacement for the Vanguard class submarines that carry the UK’s strategic nuclear deterrent. Hon. Members will recall that, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), the then Defence Secretary, announced to the House on 18 May 2011, Official Report, columns 351-53 that the programme had obtained its initial gate approval and was commencing its assessment phase leading up to main gate consideration in 2016.

The assessment phase is expected to cost some £3 billion in total, and focuses on design and engineering activities, the purchase of long lead items, preparation for production, technology development, information and knowledge management, and project management. These latest contracts are part of that investment.

To deliver the assessment phase effectively, the MOD has signed a collaborative agreement with the three key suppliers in the UK submarine industry: BAE Systems Maritime—Submarines, Rolls-Royce and Babcock. We have also signed contracts with these companies, which include the first 18 months of assessment phase activities, as the start of a rolling programme of work.

The highest value contract is with BAE Systems Maritime—Submarines: it is worth around £328 million and covers submarine design. The contract with Babcock is worth around £15 million and covers the design aspects of in-service support. In addition a contract amendment with Rolls-Royce has been placed and is worth around £4 million for Successor design work.

These contracts, along with our continued commitment to the Astute submarine programme, will sustain thousands of jobs across the UK submarine industry, and will allow us to maintain this vital capability that underpins the nation’s long-term security.

Energy and Climate Change

Draft Energy Bill (Pre-Legislative Scrutiny)

I am pleased to be publishing a draft of the Energy Bill today, in order for pre-legislative scrutiny to be carried out on it.

The draft Bill includes measures necessary to reform the electricity market to deliver secure, clean and affordable electricity.

At the heart of our Electricity Market Reform (EMR) measures are feed-in-tariffs with Contracts for Difference (CFDs), long-term instruments which will provide stable and predictable incentives for companies to invest in low-carbon generation. CFDs are more affordable than alternative incentives and will mean a better deal for consumers. Through the work on Final Investment Decisions (FID) Enabling we are committed to working with developers to enable some of this investment to come forward in advance of the CFD regime coming into force, and the Bill contains measures to support this process. This will be complemented by a capacity market that will, if required, provide security of electricity supply by ensuring sufficient reliable capacity is available. Measures relating to conflicts of interest and contingency arrangements will ensure that the system operator which will deliver these schemes is appropriate. Renewables transitional measures will ensure that existing investments under the renewables obligation remain stable. Finally, an Emissions Performance Standard (EPS) will limit carbon dioxide emissions from the most polluting fossil fuel power stations by setting appropriate standards for all new fossil fuel powered generation. Taken as a whole, EMR will enable large-scale investment in low-carbon generation capacity in the UK and deliver security of supply, in a cost-effective way.

In addition to EMR, the Energy Bill will also improve regulatory certainty by ensuring that Government and Ofgem are aligned at a strategic level through a Strategy and Policy Statement (SPS), as recommended in the Ofgem review of July 2011.

The Bill also ensures that the Office for Nuclear Regulation will be fully able to meet the future challenges of regulating the nuclear industry, as the first new power plants since the 1980s are built.

Finally, the Bill contains provisions that will enable the sale of the Government Pipeline and Storage System (GPSS). The Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) who has responsibility for equipment, support and technology, is laying a separate written ministerial statement today.

I am confident that measures contained in this Energy Bill will enable us to keep the lights on, bills down and air clean. I am pleased to commend it to the House today for PLS and will look forward to the publication of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee’s report.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Independent Agricultural Appeals Panel (Review)

I announced on 15 December 1911, Official Report 123WS that I had commissioned a review of the Independent Agricultural Appeals Panel (IAAP). I have considered the findings and recommendations of the review, and following consultation with the Minister for the Cabinet Office I am pleased to announce the Government’s decision on the future of this body. The IAAP will be retained in its current form (an advisory NDPB) and business processes supporting the appeals function are to be strengthened by DEFRA and the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), providing a more accessible and informative appeals service.

The review concluded that there remains a need for the IAAP in its current form and that it is a service valued by stakeholders. The report makes a number of recommendations that will strengthen and improve how the appeals function is operated and increase its transparency and accessibility for customers. The Government have accepted these in full. DEFRA and the RPA will work together to implement the recommendations as part of the wider programme of work announced in the RPA’s five-year improvement plan (published on 9 February). Further details are available on the DEFRA website (www.defra.gov.uk) and the RPA’s website.

Copies of the review report, “Review of the Independent Agricultural Appeals Panel” have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign Affairs Council and Development Foreign Affairs Council

I attended the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) in Brussels on 14 May. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development attended the Development FAC held later the same day.

Both meetings were chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland. A provisional report of the meeting and all conclusions adopted can be found at:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms Data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/130248.pdf

Foreign Affairs Council

Afghanistan

Ministers discussed Afghanistan ahead of international meetings in Chicago 20 and 21 May, Kabul 14 June and Tokyo 8 July. Conclusions were agreed (see link above) which reaffirmed the EU’s and individual member states’ commitment to support Afghanistan beyond its transition. Ministers agreed to continue to prioritise Afghanistan over the long-term through making an enhanced contribution to support the country. This commitment would be dependent on reciprocal efforts by the Afghan authorities to meet their agreed reform obligations.

Middle East Peace Process

Ministers agreed conclusions (see link above) stressing their commitment to a two-state solution to the conflict, and expressed concern about developments on the ground that could threaten the goal of a two-state solution, including in area C of the west bank and in East Jerusalem. They also reiterated the importance of Israel’s security.

I welcomed the conclusions and expressed hope that the new Israeli coalition could benefit the peace process. I also reminded colleagues of some recent positive steps including the import into the UK of textiles from Gaza for the first time since 2007. There is an urgent need to relax the restrictions imposed on Gaza in order to allow products to be exported to the west bank, Israel and the EU.

Southern Neighbourhood

Ministers agreed conclusions (see link above) and a further round of sanctions against Syria. I made the following statement after the meeting:

“I welcome the EU’s agreement on a new round of sanctions on Syria. As long as the violence and repression continues we will continue to increase the pressure on the regime and its supporters. We will also press others to adopt and implement similar measures”.

“The UK fully supports the work of the joint UN and Arab League special envoy to resolve the crisis in Syria. The regime must implement rapidly and fully its commitments under two unanimous UN Security Council resolutions and Kofi Annan’s plan. This plan remains the best hope of ending the violence, but it is not open-ended and we will not hesitate to return to the UN Security Council if it is not implemented swiftly and in full”.

Ministers discussed Algeria’s parliamentary elections. I had already made the following statement on 12 May:

“I congratulate the people of Algeria on the conduct of these elections and welcome the Algerian Government’s decision to allow EU observers for the first time. Over the past 16 months people across north Africa have clearly expressed their desire for greater openness and accountability, and it is encouraging that the Algerian authorities have responded in this positive way. I particularly welcome the greater representation of women in the new Parliament, in line with Algeria’s recent reforms”.

“I hope this progress will lead to further reforms in the forthcoming discussion of constitutional change, and in the run up to the local elections later this year and the presidential elections in 2014. The UK has a good relationship with Algeria and I am confident that British Parliamentarians will seek to further strengthen ties with their newly elected Algerian counterparts”.

Ministers had a short exchange on Libya where many expressed their concern about increased migration flows through the country. I noted that that the EU’s border management assessment would soon be complete and that following this up should be a priority.

Mexico

Baroness Ashton briefed Ministers on her two recent visits to Mexico and preparations for the EU-Mexico summit due to be held on 17 or 18 June. During the following discussion many stressed that the summit was an opportunity to discuss a number of issues important to EU partners, including the EU-Mexico Free Trade Agreement and wider trade and investment within the region.

Russia

Ministers reviewed Russia in the light of the upcoming EU-Russia summit of 3 and 4 June in St Petersburg. I highlighted the importance of focusing on issues which were priorities for both Russia and the EU. We need to continue to engage with civil society groups. Although many colleagues highlighted the importance of the EU-Russia new agreement, others pointed out that progress on this was likely to be slow.

Ukraine

During discussions some Ministers expressed concerns about developments in Ukraine and the EU’s inability to exert any influence. Many Ministers agreed that it was too early to take any EU-wide decision on governmental attendance at the Euro 2012 championships.

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH)

Under a short AOB item, the Slovenian and Austrian Ministers briefed on their recent visit to BiH. This is likely to be a full agenda at the FAC on 25 June.

Other business

Ministers agreed without discussion a number of others measures, including:

A Council regulation suspending certain restrictive measures against Burma.

Conclusions on Somalia highlighting the steps needed for completion of the transition process, committed to continuing “significant support” for African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISON), and stressing concern over the humanitarian situation. The conclusions also noted the imminent mandate of EUCAP Nestor (Regional Maritime Capacity Building) and extension of the mandate for Eunavfor Atalanta (counter piracy).

Conclusions on Yemen.

A Council decision to extend the EU special representative in Afghanistan.

The fifth implementation report of the EU action plan for Afghanistan.

A common position on the fourth meeting of the EU-Albania Stabilisation and Association Council.

The establishment of the EU’s position for the 15th meeting of the EU-Ukraine Co-operation Council.

Development Foreign Affairs Council

Commissioners Piebalgs (Development), and Potocnik (Environment) attended the meeting chaired by Baroness Ashton.

Council Conclusions on Agenda for Change and The Future Approach to EU Budget Support”

Ministers discussed and adopted Council conclusions for both the “Agenda for Change and The Future of EU Budget Support”. There was broad support for the principle of focusing EU grant funding on the poorest countries, with the exception of Spain who argued for a continued focus on middle-income countries in Latin America. The Secretary of State outlined UK priorities including the focus on results, impact and value for money in all EU aid. He noted the importance of rigorous analysis before providing budget support, support for improvements in domestic accountability during the provision of budget support and the importance of co-ordination within the country receiving the support. Commissioner Piebalgs stated that the EU could learn from the UK on how to better communicate its development results.

2012 Annual Report on EU Development Aid Targets

Ministers discussed the findings of the Commission’s annual report 2012 on EU development aid targets and adopted Council conclusions. Commissioner Piebalgs and Baroness Ashton both stressed the need for the EU to continue to meet its 0.7% aid target. The Secretary of State highlighted that the millennium development goals (MDGs), would not be met if we did not meet our commitments. He argued that it was in the EU’s interest to support development as well as being the right thing for the world’s poor. In spite of the economic climate there was significant public support for continuing development aid. The Secretary of State noted that the Prime Minister had recently been announced as co-chair for the UN’s high-level panel for the post MDG framework.

Burma

Ministers discussed the situation in Burma. The EU would spend €150 million in the next two years. Commissioner Piebalgs made the case for joint programming in the country, supported by a number of other Ministers. The Secretary of State informed EU Ministers that the UK had recently quadrupled its aid to Burma, and that donor co-ordination was essential.

Rio+20

Development Ministers discussed the EU position for Rio+20, stressing that there should be a development focus to the Rio summit. Some Ministers noted their support for a sustainable development Council and sustainable development goals.

Council conclusions on food security under the horn of Africa initiative

Commissioner Piebalgs presented the Commission’s approach to SHARE (Supporting Horn of Africa Resilience) stressing the importance of private sector involvement and the rural sector. The Council adopted conclusions welcoming the approach and recognised the importance of support to build resilience in the horn of Africa. Commissioner Piebalgs informed Development Ministers of ongoing discussions under the G8 regarding food security.

Council Conclusions on Policy Coherence for Development (PCD)

Council conclusions were adopted by Ministers with no discussion.

State of play on Joint Programming

France welcomed the Commission’s written note on joint programming and called for an extension of joint programming to additional countries, adding that partner countries needed to be fully involved.

International Family Planning

The Secretary of State called for financial and political support from EU development Ministers for the family planning summit on 11 July 2012, co-hosted by the UK and the Gates Foundation.

I will continue to update Parliament on future Foreign Affairs Councils.

Home Department

Putting Victims First

I am later today publishing “Putting victims first — more effective responses to anti-social behaviour”. It sets out the Government’s plans to deliver on the commitment to introduce mote effective measures to tackle anti-social behaviour, and puts them in the wider context of the reforms to the policing and criminal justice landscape and work to turn round the lives of the most troubled families.

The term “anti-social behaviour” masks a range of nuisance, disorder and crime which affects people’s lives on a daily basis: from vandalism and graffiti; to drunk or rowdy behaviour in public; to intimidation and harassment. All have huge impacts on the lives of millions of people in this country. None is acceptable.

Many police forces, local authorities and social landlords are working hard to deal with these problems. However, too often, the harm that anti-social behaviour causes, particularly when it is persistently targeted at the most vulnerable people in our society, is overlooked. At the heart of our new approach is a fundamental shift towards focusing on the needs of victims, rather than the type of behaviour.

We know what victims of anti-social behaviour want. First and foremost they want the behaviour to stop, and the perpetrators to be punished for what they have done. They want the authorities to take their problem seriously, to understand the impact on their lives and to protect them from further harm. They want the issue dealt with swiftly and they do not want it to happen again.

The mistake of the past was to think that the Government could tackle anti-social behaviour themselves. However, this is a fundamentally local problem that looks and feels different in every area and to every victim. Local agencies should respond to the priorities of the communities they serve, not to those imposed from Whitehall. From November this year, directly elected police and crime commissioners will be a powerful new voice for local people, able to push local priorities to prevent anti-social behaviour from being relegated to a “second-tier” issue.

The Government do, however, have a crucial role in supporting local areas. We will do that by:

Focusing the response to anti-social behaviour on the needs of victims—helping agencies to identify and support people at high risk of harm, giving frontline professionals more freedom to do what they know works, and improving our understanding of the experiences of victims;

Empowering communities to get involved in tackling anti-social behaviour—including by giving victims and communities the power to ensure action is taken to deal with persistent anti-social behaviour through a new community trigger, and making it easier for communities to demonstrate in court the harm they are suffering;

Ensuring professionals are able to protect the public quickly—giving them faster, more effective formal powers, and speeding up the eviction process for the most anti-social tenants, in response to recent consultations by the Home Office and Department for Communities and Local Government; and

Focusing on long term solutions—by addressing the underlying issues that drive anti-social behaviour, such as binge drinking, drug use, mental health issues, troubled family backgrounds and irresponsible dog ownership.

It is vital that those who will be affected by these changes, from the professionals who will use the new powers, to victims seeking protection from targeted abuse, can continue to shape the reforms so that we get them right first time. We will therefore publish a draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny before introducing legislation.

Copies of “Putting victims first” will be available in the Vote Office.

Equality Strategy (Building a Fairer Britain: Progress Report)

When I launched the equality strategy “Building a Fairer Britain”, in December 2010, I made a commitment to report back on its progress.

I have today published a progress update, “The Equality Strategy—Building a Fairer Britain: Progress Report”. It sets out how the coalition Government’s new approach to equality, which is based on transparency, local accountability, and reducing bureaucracy, is beginning to make a difference across the five key priority areas set out in the equality strategy.

Copies of the report are available on the Home Office website.

Justice

Appointment of the Chief Coroner

The Lord Chief Justice, following consultation with the Lord Chancellor, has announced today that His Honour Judge Peter Thornton QC is to take up post as chief coroner in September 2012.

His Honour Judge Thornton, a senior circuit judge at the central criminal court, was originally appointed to the post in May 2010 but did not formally take up his duties while the Government were reviewing the position.

As chief coroner His Honour Judge Thornton will, for the first time, be responsible for providing national leadership to coroners in England and Wales. He will also play a key role in setting new national standards and developing a new statutory framework for coroners including rules and regulations, as well as guidance and practice directions, within which coroners will operate. This will help to bring about much greater consistency of practice between coroner areas and improved services to the bereaved.

While His Honour Judge Thornton will not formally commence his duties until September, he will in advance of that familiarise himself with issues facing the coroner system. He will also continue to sit in the administrative court to hear judicial reviews on coronial matters.

Work is ongoing on implementation of the chief coroner’s statutory functions and other powers in Part 1 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, with a view to bringing them into force in 2013.

Transport

City of Liverpool Cruise Terminal

On 26 January, Official Report, columns 26WS, I undertook to report back to the House after taking external advice on an appropriate figure for grant repayment by Liverpool city council in order to assuage competition concerns sufficiently to withdraw the Department for Transport’s objection to turnaround cruise at the City of Liverpool Cruise Terminal.

The grant condition precluding turnaround had originally been set in 2007 in order to avoid unfair competition with other UK ports, which had invested in facilities without grant support. Liverpool city council had requested that the condition be lifted and it was agreed that a proportion of the grant be repaid.

I have now received this advice and have decided to accept the recommended figure of £8.8 million as a lump-sum repayment, or a total of £12.6 million if phased over 15 years. In my view this represents a fair outcome that addresses competition concerns while enhancing the benefits to secure which the grants were initially paid.

Final removal of the grant condition by DCLG will be dependent on securing state aid clearance from the European Commission, which will now be sought. The Department will assist in that process.

Dartford-Thurrock River Crossing (Charging Regime)

On 30 June 2011, the Department for Transport launched a consultation on proposals to revise the road user charging regime at the Dartford-Thurrock River Crossing. The consultation closed on 23 September.

The Government had to make hard choices at the time of the 2010 spending review, and accepted the need to increase revenues from the crossing to enable the continuing prioritisation of planned improvements.

The Department’s proposal was that cash charge for cars would increase from £1.50 to £2 from late 2011, and then to £2.50 in spring 2012, and that prices for other vehicles would also increase at broadly proportionate rates. These increases were part of a strategy to both manage demand at the crossing and to continue to prioritise short, medium and long-term improvements at the crossing.

On 24 November 2011, I informed the House that in recognition of the number of representations made, and to allow the Department time to carefully consider the responses further, there would be no increase in either 2011 or spring 2012 as set out in the consultation.

The Government remain committed to tackling the current and forecast traffic congestion at the crossing in recognition of its strategic importance, its role in facilitating the movements of goods and people and its contribution to national and local economies.

The Department received over 1,300 responses to its proposals for revising the charging regime at the crossing. Following careful consideration of all the points made during that consultation, I am today announcing the Department’s conclusions and the actions it intends taking.

The Department has decided to keep the road user charging regime at the crossing as part of its strategy to manage demand for its use, and also to allow the Department to delivery its strategy for future improvements. This includes the medium-term measure of implementing free-flow charging technology at the crossing in autumn 2014. To achieve this, consultation on the necessary secondary legislation will begin in autumn this year, followed by awarding the contract for customer charging and enforcement management services in autumn 2013.

In terms of the charges, the Department intends to increase these in two successive steps, as originally proposed, but to introduce the first increase in October 2012 (after the Olympic period), and the second at the same time as implementation of new, free-flow charging technology at the crossing, currently scheduled for October 2014.

In terms of the levels of increase, the Department intends to increase the level of the cash charge for cars by 50p in October 2012, and again by a further 50p in October 2014. The cash charges for other vehicle classes will rise by broadly proportional amounts.

Discounts offered to regular users of the crossing who pay in advance through the electronic DART-Tag system will remain, with the costs of the discounted crossing charge increasing at the same rate and at the same time as the increases for cash payments.

Delaying the increases until after September responds to views expressed in the consultation about the proposed timing of increases, particularly in relation to the Olympic and Paralympic games, and about adverse impacts on the national and local economies.

As promised, the Department will maintain the levels of discounts to those eligible through the local residents’ discount scheme, and there will be no increases in the levels of the crossing charge for them. The Department is committed to ensuring that the discount scheme for residents remains effective and easy to use, and I have asked my Department to undertake a full review of the scheme to ensure it provides suitable discounted benefits to local communities who are impacted by the crossing.

One of our short-term measures to improve the crossing included the deployment of a charge suspension protocol which was trialled during 2011 by the Highways Agency. The agency has reviewed the effectiveness of the suspension protocol, taking into consideration the views expressed during the consultation on charges and we will shortly announce the conclusions of that review.

Subject to the completion of the necessary parliamentary processes, the Department intends to revise the road user charging regime as set out above.

The full response to the consultation can be found on the Department’s website.

Government Car and Despatch Agency Business Plan

I am today announcing the next stage of the reform of the Government Car and Despatch Agency. By the end of this calendar year we intend to have ended GCDA’s agency status and to have integrated it into the Department for Transport.

We expect potential savings in administration costs of around £1.3 million to be achieved from the ending of agency status once all of the functions have been successfully merged with the Department. We will continue to publish information on expenditure and income to maintain financial transparency.

I am also announcing the publication of the 2012-13 business plan for GCDA.

The business plan sets out:

the services the agency will continue to deliver until agency status ends and details of the continuing significant change and reform programme being implemented there;

the resources they require, and

a framework of measures by which their performance will be assessed

The measures allow service users and members of the public to assess how the agency is performing in delivering its key services and reforms and in managing agency finances.

The business plan will be available electronically on agency websites and copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.