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Written Statements

Volume 557: debated on Tuesday 22 January 2013

Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Business, Innovation and Skills

Regional Growth Fund

In my written ministerial statement of 6 September 2012, Official Report, columns 27-28WS, I announced that the round 3 contracting process would be quicker and lessons learned from the previous rounds would be applied. In round 3 I implemented a defined contracting process with fixed timings. Under this new timetable, once bidders were informed they have been selected, a conditional offer had to be agreed within three months of that date, and bidders then have a further three months to complete due diligence. This means that selected round 3 bidders are expected to sign a final offer within six months of Ministers deciding to support the bid.

I am pleased to report that these new deadlines have galvanised bidders and that round 3 contracting has progressed faster than previous rounds. Following the shortlisting process, 130 selected bids were announced on 19 October 2012, which meant the three-month deadline expired on 19 January 2013. Seven bidders have withdrawn. I can inform both Houses that at 19 January all the remaining 123 bidders have now been issued with conditional offer letters, some of which require multiple contracts, setting out detailed terms and conditions.

The fund is designed to operate during the life of this Parliament and if the regional growth fund secretariat is not confident that a particular bid will deliver within the agreed six-month time frame, it will take immediate steps to ensure that funding can be re-allocated in good time. The means that, subject to considering exceptional circumstances, those bids that do not meet the next deadline for final offer letters will be required to withdraw.

I will continue to keep Parliament informed about progress.

Withdrawals

In addition to the seven withdrawals from round 3 mentioned above, 18 round 1 and 2 projects have been withdrawn since my statement of 6 September. A list of all withdrawals to date will be published in due course.

Treasury

ECOFIN

A meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council will be held in Brussels on 22 January 2013. We expect the following items to be on the agenda and discussed:

Current legislative proposals

The presidency will give an update on: the fourth capital requirements directive (CRDIV); banking supervision proposals; and the economic governance “two pack” relating to the euro area.

Presentation of the presidency work programme

The presidency will present its six-month work programme for ECOFIN.

Follow-up to the European Council meeting on 13-14 December 2012

Ministers will hold an exchange of views. On economic and financial affairs, the European Council discussed further economic and monetary integration for the euro area, and endorsed new safeguards that will protect the interests of member states outside the euro area.

Annual Growth Survey

Ministers will hold an initial exchange of views on this, ahead of looking to agree Council conclusions at a future ECOFIN.

Communication: an Action Plan to strengthen the fight against tax fraud and tax evasion

There will be a presentation by the Commission. The Government are fully committed to clamping down on those who evade paying tax and welcome Commission consideration of what EU-level actions may be appropriate. While the action plan is not binding, the Government will consider the proposals in further detail and will look to the EU to play a role in helping to take forward the important agenda on combating tax fraud and evasion, supporting work at national and international level.

Financial Transaction Tax (FTT)

The Council is likely to adopt a proposal for a Council decision authorising enhanced co-operation. The UK fully supports those member states who have raised concerns that the European Commission has not provided any analysis of the impacts an enhanced co-operation FTT would have on individual member states, both participants and non-participants.

Defence

Armed Forces Redundancy Programme (Tranche 3)

The Government announced in the outcome of the strategic defence and security review in October 2010 that, as part of moving to Future Force 2020, we would reduce the size of the Regular Army by 7,000 personnel, and both the naval service and Royal Air Force by 5,000 personnel. In addition, in order to balance the British Army’s regular and reserve forces, further reductions were subsequently identified to deliver a Regular Army of around 82,000 by 2020. We also made it clear that, in order to maintain balanced force structures for the future, an element of these reductions would need to be made through a redundancy programme.

Our statement of 1 March 2011, Official Report, column 21-22WS, set out the process and timetable for the armed forces redundancy programme. Consequently, in September 2011, 2,860 service personnel were notified of their redundancy in the first tranche (1,020 service personnel from the naval service, 920 from the Army and 920 from the Royal Air Force), 62% of whom had applied for selection. On 12 June 2012, 3,760 service personnel were notified of their selection for redundancy in the second tranche (160 service personnel from the naval service, 2,880 from the Army and 720 from the Royal Air Force), 72% of whom had applied for selection.

Today the Army is announcing the fields from which they will select personnel to be made redundant in the third tranche of the programme; this will comprise up to 5,300 Army personnel. There is likely to be a need for a further tranche for Army personnel and medical and dental personnel from the Royal Navy and RAF in due course.

The same selection principles as used in the last two tranches will be applied. The Army will seek to maximise the number of applicants from all personnel that meet the published criteria. The redundancy programme will not impact adversely on current operations in Afghanistan, and no one who is serving on specified operations on the day the redundancy notices are issued on 18 June 2013 will be made redundant unless they are applicants. Similarly, those preparing for, or recovering from such operations on the day the redundancy notices are issued will not be made redundant unless they have applied. Those personnel who are liable to deploy with their units to Afghanistan in autumn 2013 on the day the redundancy notices are issued will be exempt from tranche 3 unless they are an applicant; as a result of the drawdown plans already announced, those units liable to deployment will not be confirmed until April 2013. Any applicant who is selected for redundancy and whose unit is subsequently deployed will be able to choose whether to deploy with the unit, or not. Personnel who are assessed as being permanently below the level of fitness required to remain in the forces will not be considered for redundancy, and will instead leave through the medical discharge route at the appropriate stage in their recovery.

Throughout the redundancy process, we will ensure that we retain the capabilities that our armed forces require in order to meet the challenges of the future.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Common Agricultural Policy

From 2014, ready for scheme year 2015, DEFRA will start to introduce a single computer system for all CAP funding in England, irrespective of the delivery body, meaning it will be quicker and easier to apply for CAP schemes when they go live after this date. This will affect four DEFRA delivery bodies: Rural Payments Agency (RPA), Natural England (NE), Forestry Commission (FC) and the rural development programme for England (RDPE) delivery team. As part of the drive to cut red tape in farming, it will mean that recipients will only have to enter their details once to a single point of contact rather than for each CAP scheme they apply for.

The new system will also improve the speed and accuracy of payments, improve targeting of farm inspections, reduce running costs, and allow the bodies to adapt easily to future policy or regulatory changes.

DEFRA will be working closely with the Government Digital Service, part of the Cabinet Office, in procuring the new delivery solution.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Afghanistan (Monthly Progress Report)

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 23rd progress report on developments in Afghanistan since November 2010.

On 5 December, I hosted a meeting in London with the Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan Hina Rabbani Khar and the Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Dr Zalmai Rassoul. We discussed the Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process and how to strengthen joint efforts to address extremism and advance regional peace and stability. We were joined by Masoom Stanekzai, Head of the Joint Secretariat to the High Peace Council. This meeting was the third in a series of trilateral discussions that took place last year.

On 19 December the Prime Minister announced that the UK would reduce force levels in Afghanistan to around 5,200 by the end of 2013. This reduction is in response to improving conditions on the ground and the growing capability of Afghan security forces. The Prime Minister had previously said that the UK will not have any troops in a combat role in Afghanistan after 2014. However, the UK will maintain a long-term partnership with Afghanistan post-2014 through trade, diplomacy and development, as well as training mentoring and funding of Afghan security forces. The Helmand provincial reconstruction team (PRT) will close as troops draw down (alongside other PRTs as requested by the Afghan Government) but we are working to ensure that the substantial progress made since 2007 on security, development, justice and governance is sustainable and continues long after our departure.

The Prime Minister visited Afghanistan from 20 to 21 December. He met British forces and civilian staff to thank them for their efforts and to receive an update on the progress of transition.

The Secretary of State for International Development visited Kabul and launched the latest phase of UK assistance to the Afghanistan Revenue Department (ARD). With just £35 million of UK aid since 2004-05, the ARD has increased Government revenue from $250 million to more than $2 billion in 2011-12. The Secretary of State for International Development also met President Karzai to underline the UK’s long-term commitment to Afghanistan. She made clear the importance of the role of women in securing a prosperous and stable future for Afghanistan.

On 11 December, the Secretary of State for International Development and FCO Minister, Baroness Warsi discussed with UK parliamentarians how best to help improve the position of women and girls in Afghanistan. At this meeting they reiterated the UK Government’s long-term support to support women and girls in Afghanistan.

On 17 December the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2082 (2012), making further steps to ensure the sanctions regime is well equipped to support the Afghan peace and reconciliation process. The new resolution includes a more flexible travel ban exemption for individuals proposed by the Afghans to participate in peace talks. This permits these individuals to undertake unlimited travel between specified locations for a maximum nine-month period. The resolution also encourages greater co-operation between the UN Sanctions Committee and the Afghan Government.

Tranche four of transition was announced by the Afghan Government on 31 December. The 12 provinces added in this tranche are mostly in the north and interior of the country. One district in Helmand (Now Zad) is included in this transition. This is a further sign of progress in Afghanistan and a reflection of the rapidly improving capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). As a result the ANSF will take the lead in providing security for nearly 90% of the Afghan population.

On 10 January 2013 the International Development Committee (IDC) published DFID’s response to their report on Afghanistan: development progress and prospects after 2014. Both the IDC report and DFID’s response can be found here:

http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/international-development-committee/Publications/.

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).

Extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council on Mali

I attended the extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) on 17 January. The Foreign Affairs Council was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland. The Malian Foreign Minister Tieman Hubert Coulibaly attended a plenary discussion. Commissioner Piebalgs (Development) was also in attendance for some of the discussions.

A provisional report of the meeting and conclusions adopted can be found at:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/134770.pdf

Mali

Ministers agreed Council conclusions condemning the military offensive against Malian forces by terrorist groups. Ministers expressed solidarity with Mali, and supported France’s intervention and leadership. The importance of African contribution was emphasised, and the role of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was welcomed. Ministers supported the rapid deployment of the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2085, and expressed the EU’s willingness to support AFISMA financially.

I stressed that alongside the military campaign there needed to be concrete progress on the political track, both in Bamako and in relation to non-extremist groups in the north.

EU Training Mission

Ministers also adopted a Council decision formally establishing an EU military mission to contribute to the training of the Malian Armed Forces (EUTM Mali). General François Lecointre was appointed as the mission commander. The planning process for the mission will now be accelerated: the EU’s intention is to launch the EUTM Mali in mid-February, following a further Council decision. This decision will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny in the usual manner. The mission commander was invited to send the first technical team to Bamako within the next few days. The EUTM will not have a combat role. Its purpose is to train Malian soldiers.

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

Home Department

Powers of Entry

My hon. Friend the Minister for Criminal Information, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, has today made the following written ministerial statement:

The Protection of Freedoms Act (PoFA) 2012 requires Ministers across Government to undertake a review of powers of entry over a two-year period due to conclude in early 2014. The Act requires Ministers with responsibility for powers of entry to examine their powers and to consider whether they are still necessary, proportionate and contain sufficient safeguards.

Ministers are required to report on outcomes of the review to Parliament by May 2014.

During the passage of the Act, Ministers agreed to provide an update of progress of the review and I am pleased to place copies of the first six-month progress report in the Library of the House.

We are also commencing consultation on the code of practice for powers on entry required by the 2012 Act. Copies of the draft code have today been placed in the Library of the House and are available on the Home Office website.

Justice

Transforming Services in the Office of the Public Guardian

The Government are today publishing their response to the consultation “Transforming the Services of the Office of the Public Guardian”, which ended on 19 October 2012. The consultation paper invited comments on a range of proposals to digitalise the services provided by the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG).

Over a hundred responses to the consultation were received, with many proposals receiving broad support. It is our intention to implement those proposals which were received positively, and which can be carried out within the current legislative framework, as soon as possible. By April 2013, therefore, we intend to: introduce an online tool for making a lasting power of attorney (LPA) to make the process simpler, clearer and faster and reduce errors in the LPAs that reach the OPG requiring correction; reduce the statutory waiting period for registering an LPA from six to four weeks in order to make the process quicker, while still retaining adequate safeguards; and introduce a regulation allowing court appointed deputies to change security bond provider without the need to make an application to court.

Other changes require further development or are dependent on the new OPG replacement IT system being in place. I will make a further statement when these changes are due to come into effect.

Today, I have deposited copies of the response to the consultation paper in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office. Copies are available on the internet at: www.justice.gov.uk.

Transport

Parliamentary Oral Question (Correction)

I regret to inform the House that there was an inaccuracy in the answer I gave to a supplementary question pursuant to an oral parliamentary question [UIN 137500] on 17 January 2013, Official Report, column 1012, about schemes announced in the autumn statement 2011 which are now under construction.

The correct answer is that work is under way on over 90% of the projects and that construction has already begun on 13 of them.

There was also an inaccuracy in the answer I gave to a supplementary question pursuant to oral parliamentary question [UIN 137497] on 17 January 2013, Official Report, column 1009. I would like to clarify that £600 million, not £650 million, has been invested in the local sustainable transport fund programme.

It is worth pointing out that, in addition to this figure, we have announced a further £107 million of investment specifically for cycling schemes, of which £42 million was announced at last year’s autumn statement.

Night Flying Restrictions

On 26 March 2012 the Government announced that they would extend the existing restrictions on night flights at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports for a period of two years until October 2014. This extension will ensure a new night flying regime can take account of the aviation policy framework, which the Government have committed to have in place by the spring.

Today I have published the first of two consultations which will inform the development of the next night noise regime. This first consultation seeks views and evidence on a range of issues including the effectiveness of the current regime, the costs and benefits of future options and airlines’ fleet replacement plans. Additionally this consultation includes a review of current evidence on the costs of night flights, particularly noise, and the benefits of these flights. It sets out our thinking on how we would expect to appraise the policy options for the next night flights regime and seeks views on our approach.

We will publish the second consultation later this year and this will include specific proposals for the new regime, such as the number of permitted night flights. These proposals, which will be informed by the evidence we receive from this first stage consultation, will need to strike a fair balance between the interests of those affected by the noise disturbance and those of the airports, passengers and the UK economy.