Written Ministerial Statements
Friday 9 November 2012
Cash Management Operations
I am today announcing that the excess cash held in the Bank of England’s Asset Purchase Facility (APF) will be transferred to the Exchequer. This will bring the cash management arrangements for the facility in line with normal Government practice. It will also align the UK’s approach with that of other countries’ whose central banks are undertaking quantitative easing.
As of 8 November, the APF has purchased £375 billion of gilts. The APF has now been operating for longer, and over a larger scale than the original limit of £150 billion. As a result the APF has accumulated a significant cash surplus. At the end of March 2012, the APF held £23.8 billion in cash and this is expected to increase to around £35 billion by the end of March 2013 (based on the stock of gilts purchased of £375 billion).
The net coupon income earned by the APF during 2012-13 will be transferred to the Exchequer during 2012-13. For operational reasons, it is envisaged that excess cash that accumulated in the APF up to the end of 2011-12 will be drawn down during 2013-14. All cash transfers are expected to impact on the central Government net cash requirement. Net coupon flows in future financial years will be settled on a quarterly basis in arrears, starting from financial year 2013-14. As is usual, the Debt Management Office’s financing remit for 2012-13 will be revised at the time of the autumn statement.
These changes will end the current arrangement which requires the Government to borrow money to fund coupon payments to the Bank of England. Holding large amounts of cash in the APF is economically inefficient as it requires the Government to borrow money to fund these coupon payments.
At some stage it is likely that the cash flows from the APF to HM Treasury will need to be reversed, consistent with the terms of the indemnity, as monetary conditions normalise. The Government reaffirm their predecessor’s commitment that any future losses incurred by the APF will be met in full by the Government. For this reason, net coupon income transferred from the APF to HM Treasury should be used solely to benefit the public finances and to reduce debt.
This process has no implications for the Monetary Policy Committee’s ability to set monetary policy appropriately. The APF remains fully indemnified by HM Treasury and any gains or losses are due to the Exchequer.
Reserves (Call-Out Order) (Afghanistan)
With the expiry of the call-out order made on 11 November 2011, a new order has been made under section 54 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 to enable reservists to continue to be called out into service to support operations in Afghanistan. The new order is effective until 10 November 2013. Reservists continue to make a valuable contribution to operations in that country and over 2,000 have been called out over the last year. Over 530 reservists are currently deployed in Afghanistan.
Reserves (Call-Out Order) (Global Security Objectives)
With the expiry of the call-out order made on 8 November 2011, a new call-out order has been made under section 56 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 to enable reservists to continue to be called out into permanent service to support our wider efforts to counter the threat from international terrorism and piracy, and to assist our maritime security objectives. The order takes effect from 8 November 2012 and ceases to have effect on 7 November 2013. Some 75 members of the reserve forces were called out under this order last year and their continued support is greatly appreciated and valued.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Ash Tree Dieback
Further to my response to the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) at DEFRA questions on 25 October, Official Report, column 1064, and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome’s (Mr Heath) response to an urgent question on 29 October, Official Report, columns 23-31, I would like to update the House on the ash dieback situation in the UK.
Following a shortened consultation, I imposed an import ban and strict movement restrictions on ash on 29 October. Chalara fraxinea was first confirmed in imported stock in a nursery on 7 March. We initiated an exercise to trace young ash saplings from infected imported stock. This exercise continues. However, we found the disease in mature trees in East Anglia on 22 October. Further searches revealed more cases already present in the wider environment.
In response to this I initiated an unprecedented survey of the whole of the UK, in partnership with the devolved Administrations, to map the extent of the disease. This has involved over 500 staff and volunteers looking for signs of the disease in around 2,500 10-kilometre squares. Four wooded sites were inspected in each square giving us a preliminary indication of the disease’s extent and distribution. That work was completed on 7 November.
The results of the survey show that, as of yesterday, there are 129 confirmed sites with ash dieback caused by the fungus Chalara fraxinea. Some 15 of these are in nursery stock, 50 are in recently planted sites, and 64 are in the wider environment. To date no evidence of ash dieback has been found in Northern Ireland. In addition, the Country Land and Business Association and a number of other organisations have mobilised their members to provide additional information on suspected cases. Regular updates, including the map of confirmed disease in Great Britain, and information for the public can be found on the Forestry Commission’s website:
On 7 November I held a summit of more than 100 experts from the forestry industry and environmental groups to advise me on how we can best tackle this disease. This provided an opportunity to share the latest evidence and the current state of our scientific knowledge. The summit also identified ideas for tackling Chalara in the short term and for improving our approach to dealing with threats to tree health in the longer term.
The evidence from the survey and the experts gathered together on Wednesday indicates that the Chalara infection has been present in the natural environment in Great Britain for some years.
Also on the 7 November, we published an evidence summary compiled over the past week by a group of experts convened by DEFRA’s chief scientific adviser, Professor Ian Boyd. The scientific advice from that group is that where the disease is present in the natural environment, this is likely to be due to spores blown in on the wind from continental Europe. Their advice is that it will not be possible to eradicate Chalara.
That does not necessarily mean the end of the British ash. If we can slow the spread of the disease, this will give us time to investigate resistance to Chalara in the UK tree population. In the longer term, we will also need to consider how best to restructure our woodlands to improve their resilience. I provided a copy of the evidence summary to all hon. Members on Wednesday and I will also place it in the Libraries of both Houses.
I am today announcing a series of short-term actions to begin to address the problem quickly.
1. Newly planted diseased trees and diseased trees in nurseries will be traced and destroyed, as once young trees are infected they succumb quickly.
2. Mature trees will not currently be removed, as they are valuable to wildlife, take longer to die and can help us learn more about genetic strains that might be resistant to the disease. Infection does not occur directly from tree to tree.
3. Better understanding of the disease will be built through research and surveys, which will look not only for diseased trees but for those that show signs of resistance to Chalara, to help identify genetic strains resistant to the disease.
4. The search for the disease will include trees in towns and cities as well as the countryside, building partnerships with a range of organisations beyond Government.
5. Foresters, land managers, environmental groups and the public will be informed about how to identify diseased trees and those likely to be resistant to the disease, and know what to do if they find a diseased tree.
For now, the main control measure is the ban on imports and movements. Infection in mature trees is not a threat at this time of year as they are not producing spores. The main risk to manage between now and the spring is the movement of infected ash leaf litter for which we have already provided advice to the public, local authorities and landowners.
By the end of November I will publish a more detailed control plan which delivers our objectives for tackling Chalara by considering the following:
Designating protected zones, to free up trade in ash from areas free of the disease through authorising businesses to issue “plant passports”.
Establishing a tree health early warning network to provide advice, screening and initial diagnostics.
Developing advice on protecting saplings and responding rapidly if the disease is found.
Developing advice on sustainable management of mature trees on sites affected by Chalara.
What additional equipment is needed to diagnose tree disease.
Improved biosecurity including import controls; and
More public engagement in helping diagnose and tackle disease through “citizen science” including an OPAL (Open Air Laboratories) citizen science project.
For the longer term, I am also considering our strategic approach to the threat of disease to our plants and trees in the light of experience of responding to Chalara. In early October, I asked Professor Ian Boyd to convene an expert taskforce on tree health and plant biosecurity. I am prepared to consider radical proposals to protect the woodland environment and I look forward to seeing his interim proposals at the end of November. I will update the House when I have received that report.
Social Science Research Committee
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has commissioned an independent review of the Social Science Research Committee (SSRC) in line with the Cabinet Office requirement that all non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) should be reviewed every three years. The SSRC is an advisory NDPB which provides the FSA with independent expert advice on the use of social science evidence. The review will be carried out by Helen Lucas (Lucas Associates Ltd), an external independent consultant and will be complete by the end of December 2012. The review process will include consultation with the committee chair and members, key stakeholders and the FSA chief scientist. The report of the review together with the responses to the review recommendations from FSA and the SSRC will be published on the FSA’s website in July 2013.
The main objectives of the review are to assess:
whether there is a continuing need for the function provided by the committee;
whether the role, remit and the status of the committee is clearly defined and appropriate to provide this function and to ensure it has the most impact and value;
the methods of operation and effectiveness, including committee’s terms of reference and composition and the openness and transparency of its procedures (including with reference to the standards set out in the CoPSAC1 and the good practice guidelines2);
the relationships between the committee, the commissioning Department and other bodies with related responsibilities (in particular the other scientific advisory committees that advise the FSA);
the implementation of the recommendations from the FSA’s 2002 report3 on the review of scientific committees, the revised code of practice for SACs and the current governance structure; and
adherence to the principles laid out in the 2005 Royal Society Report4 on potential social science insights for risk assessment.
This review is part of the FSA’s rolling programme of independent reviews of the Scientific Advisory Committees (SACs) that advise the FSA.
I would like to update the House on development co-operation with India. In announcing to the House the conclusions of the bilateral aid review on 1 March 2011, the then Secretary of State said that our programme to India was in transition and would not continue for ever. In June 2011, the International Development Select Committee recommended that the UK’s development relationship with India should change after 2015. I am announcing today an agreement with the Government of India which moves us towards this new type of relationship.
We have agreed that the UK’s programme of financial grant aid to India will end. From now, all new development co-operation programmes will be either technical assistance programmes focused on sharing skills and expertise, or investments in private sector projects focused on helping the poor. We will finish existing financial grant projects responsibly, so that they all complete as planned by 2015.
These changes reflect India’s rapid growth and development progress in the last decade. India’s growing ability to finance its own development programmes means that the time has now come to end the UK’s financial grant support, the growing two-way trade and investment between our two countries means that our development partnership should increasingly be about trade not aid.
As part of the new focus on sharing skills and expertise, we have agreed to develop a cross-Government technical assistance programme focused on priority issues, such as growth, trade, investment, education, skills and health. This new partnership will draw on skills and experience across the Government, and the Department for International Development will work very closely with other Departments including the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, UK Trade and Investment, the Department for Energy and Climate Change and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We will also continue the programme we launched last year to invest in private sector projects bringing opportunities to poor people in the poorest parts of India.
The two Governments have agreed to enhance collaboration on global development issues for which specific areas of interest will be identified.
The Governments of India and the UK are proud of our development achievements over the last 50 years. This new partnership will be an important part of the India-UK wider relationship, which we deeply value.
Heavy Goods Vehicles
I am today announcing the publication of a consultation document which aims to examine whether the speed limit for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) over 7.5 tonnes on single carriageways, is set at the right level.
This follows a commitment published in “The Logistics Growth Review - Connecting People with Goods” document in November 2011.
The current speed limit on single carriageways for HGVs over 7.5 tonnes is 40 mph. The speed limit for smaller HGVs (those between 3.5 tonnes and 7.5 tonnes) is 50 mph.
Stakeholders have told us that the 40 mph speed limit causes unnecessary costs to vehicle operators, congestion, avoidable overtaking collisions and creates an uneven playing field for businesses.
The freight and logistics sector is an essential part of the economy, vital to businesses of all sizes and sectors. Raising HGV speed limits on single-carriageway roads could lead to quicker journeys and lower costs for the sector, aiding economic growth as well as reducing frustration for the many drivers who find themselves stuck behind slower-moving lorries on busy roads unable to overtake. However, there are other consequences of greater speed—both in terms of the environmental impacts and the potential effects on road safety.
We are inviting responses from the trade associations, haulage companies. Government enforcement bodies or police forces and organisations, road safety groups, local authorities and road users.
The consultation will run until 1 February.